Wednesday, 29 September 2010

the story of Goldilocks and the 'just right' affirmation of faith

The other week I was having dinner with friends.  They'd been to a church that shall be nameless which had, in its order of service, an affirmation of faith.  As we ate and blethered we recalled times when we'd been confronted with statements of faith - foisted upon us on a sheet within worship - with the expectation that we would, having never seen it before and thus, not had time to consider it, blithely utter it in some meaningful way.
Some affirmations, or statements, over the years have been cringe-worthy.
Some have been sailing close to the orthodox theological wind.
Some written so ambiguously and clumsily that one was not quite sure what one was actually attempting to affirm.
Others written focusing in on the language of power and domination and exclusion.

We generally agreed that the writing of creeds, or statements, or affirmations of faith is a pretty pernickety and difficult business.  I later wondered if writing such things is a little like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, and how to construct a statement that is 'just right'.  Given the breadth and diversity of the Church, is there a 'just right' affirmation?
That said, the affirmation of faith from church that shall be nameless is something I think I could mostly, happily say.
I particularly responded to the gender stereotype reversal in the line:
'with a father's tenderness and a mother's strength'

What do others think?


We believe in one God:
the creator of all things,
who loves the whole creation
with a father's tenderness and a mother's strength.

We believe in one God:
our Liberator Jesus Christ,
the Word of God made flesh,
true God and truly human;
born among the poor he lived as bringer of God's kingdom;
a teacher and a healer,
a lover of life and a prophet of justice,
forgiver of sins and a friend of sinners,
who welcomed the outcasts and challenged the powerful,
whose death on the cross defeated sin and death,
who rose from the dead
and is alive forever in power and glory.

We believe in one God:
the Holy Spirit, the giver of life,
the Breath of life in all life,
the gift of God to the people of God,
Disturber and Comforter,
the fire and the dove,
who makes us one community in peace and love.

We believe in one God,
a community of love,
a trinity of holiness,
the beginning and end of all life.

cross-posted at

Monday, 27 September 2010

of plate-spinning, beaches and reflective practice

I've always loved an open horizon - even more when it is the sea, a river, or lake.  There's something about swathes of water that soothes my soul, helps me relax, gives me a better perspective on life, the universe and everything.  This pic. is what lies at the end of my street - maybe 50metres away.  Every morning when I leave for university I shut my front door and look at this, before readjusting my rucksack and turning the other way to walk to the bus stop.  Every evening, after leaving the bus and the noise of the main street, I follow the salt tang in the air and head back in the direction of the sea and to my home. On still nights, when the tide is high and the evening is warm enough that I can leave my windows open, I hear the sound of the waves rippling to the shore.

You'd think, given where I live, that I'd spend a lot of time down on the beach... but this last year I have become progressively worse at taking time out to 'be'; so many demands crowding in and taking up so many pieces of me.  Juggling.  Lots of it.  Sometimes not quite knowing which spinning plate to catch and put back on the shelf to rest.

Some have said 'Ha! Get used to it if you're going to be a minister!'  But I think that this is a false analogy.  I know - or understand - that while there's a rhythm of days in ministry, that also one should constantly expect the unexpected; life is crazy-busy.  Yup.  And I will be happy enough for that.  Where I think the analogy comes unstuck is more in light of focus: the fact that as a minister I will not also be doing a full-time degree, nor doing the other requisite bits and pieces that 121 requires of its trainee ministers.  As a minister [should I get through the process and a congregation call me] my focus will be on the rhythm and irrhythm of ministry - that is, in the midst of it all, while gazillions of things will crop up, it will at least be contained within the context of being a minister.  Not sure if I'm articulating this well at all.  Never mind!  And here I put in the caveat that for the most part, I do enjoy the process, although sometimes it feels like being pushed and pulled and squished in a frenzy of activity whilst simultaneously being expected to be a reflective practitioner.  A paradox, a paradox... yet life is about paradox and, often times because of that, more challenging but also more enjoyable.  Nevertheless, how do I build in patterns now that will stand me in good stead later on?  Those practices that will help stave off burn out and drop out?

In an attempt to become a little more accountable to myself about those demands that take pieces of me, and the subsequent lack of peace, and in hope of getting my life and balance back, I'm going to spend this semester not doing pulpit supply, get better at saying the word 'no', and go and spend time sitting on 'my' beach.... Time to think, while I can, and perhaps time to build in some way of remembering to take the time to feel the sand between the toes, listen to the waves, watch the sunsets, and formulate a strategy for doing this when demands come crowding in again.  It's odd: I used to be so good at this - training for ministry has seen some unwelcome 'rat-race rot' creep back in.
Let's see how this mini-sabbatical from churchly duties goes this semester...!

Sunday, 19 September 2010


Today be
International Talk Like a Pirate Day mateys.
So sit ye doon and lookie: here be pirate joke treasurrrre...
oh, and quite a cheery wee cupcake to celebrate with as well ... *ahem*... arrrrrr!!!

What is a pirate's favorite prayer?
The ARRRRrrr Father!! 
Where does a pirate go to sign up for his college courses in scallywaggery?
The registraRRRRRRRRGH!
How do pirates solve their differences?
How do pirates communicate with dogs?
Pirate: AARRRrrrr!!!!
Dog: AAARRRRrrrff, AAAAARRRRrffff!! 
What do Jamaican pirates listen to?
Bob MaRRRRRley!! 
What do pirates put on toast?
What do you get when you mix a pirate with a vampire?
and to finish with an historical nod:
What did the pirate captain call his collection of ship's logs from plundered vessels?
Do carry on...

Saturday, 18 September 2010

and now, on with the thesis... :)

Having submitted my 'stuff' for the Board last week, I set to the task of quizzing myself, memorising footnotes, cosying up to Mr Knox to ask his advice... all the while coming down with what has been the filthiest, nastiest cold I've had the misfortune of experiencing.  Ack.
And so Friday loomed and I arrived at New College.
Free buffet lunch, as a 'welcome' to the start of play of the academic year, saw me juggling a couple of sarnies, a coffee, danish and a plum.  Sat to the side of the room quietly dying.  And watched as illustrious supervisor wandered in also looking like death.  Brief chat ensued, with me wondering aloud about communicating via the medium of interpretive dance should my voice fail.
Wandered back up to the office - the wonderfully shiny newly refurbished gorgeous office of joyfulness with my fabulously fabby gorgeouso workspace - and continued memorising footnotes.
3pm was approaching.
Armed with my sample chapter, extended proposal, and thesis timetable - possibly one of the best pieces of creative writing I've done in a long while! - off I went.
My brain was utter mush.
Thankfully, the chair of the meeting seemed to talk at length about a particular book I might want to read.  Then a couple of fairly light questions.
The fog in my brain began to roll down in earnest, just as the next person on the panel starting asking questions.
Gasping for breath at one point and apologising, amidst the voice beginning to go, supervisor slid throat lozenges across the table silently.
Some minor relief re. voice, but brain was still fogged.
I suspect the examiner could have suggested I include a chapter on Godzilla battling zombie seamonsters and I'd have nodded in agreement. 
I burbled incoherently.
Next examiner made a few points but no questions, really.
And that was it.
Out of the room I stepped.
In the midst of the fog, I mused on the less than ideal conditions for this type of thing.
Invited back into room
Smiles all around.
A couple of suggestions.
They seemed to like it.
I passed.
I think I smiled pathetically, thanked them for their time and asked them if it was okay to go home and die.
Was told to finish writing the thesis first.
So, I will.
But not this weekend. I am going to watch back to back episodes of the classic BBC edition of Pride and Prejudice
Sorry Mr Knox, it's Mr Darcy time.

Monday, 13 September 2010

and now onwards to the Board...

Yes, it's been a little bit quiet here in pilgrim-whirled... have been editing like mad in a race to a Monday 9am deadline.  Finished chapter and proposal tidying last night at 11pm and submitted them.  And now, best read and reflect on what I've written so I can sound vaguely coherent for the Board on Friday.  So, what is my thesis about??? Answers on a postcard please.  In the meantime..., thinking time.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

an alphabet of gratitude: loose ends

Way back at the end of August last year, I had decided I'd try to be a little more intentional about practising gratitude and I was doing relatively well until life quietly did its thing and took over.  Which isn't to say I have not been living in a state of ingratitude since Jan. 2010, when the 'alphabet of gratitude' stopped at the letter 'S' and sort of sat in a layby until now [she said, defensively].  But I do like to tie up loose ends, to see thing come to some kind of conclusion wherever possible - although getting better at learning some things can't and won't get 'sorted' this side of heaven.  Anyhoo this one's kinda easy to sort out in a one-er!

'T' is for ...

T-Rex: the scariest dinosaur of 'em all and let's be blunt, dinosaurs are cool, right? This goes in for a small friend whose name also begins with 'T', and who can tell you everything you need to know on the subject of dinosaurs.  Not to be confused with the pop band led by Marc Bolan, but who also get an honourable mention for making music fun.

Theology: to quote Karl Barth 'in the Church of Jesus Christ there can and should be no non-theologians.'

Tigger: "Bouncy trouncy flouncy pouncy fun fun fun fun fun. The most wonderful thing about tiggers is I'm the only one!"
Tintern Abbey: chiefly for the grin it causes as I run an old Woganesque conversation in my head 'Tintern Abbey'/ 'tis an abbey'/ 'aye, Tintern Abbey...' etc. :)

'U' is for...

Umbrella: and thinking of that great quote which runs along the lines: 'the rain falls upon the just and also on the unjust fellas, but mostly it falls upon the just 'cause the unjust have the just's umbrellas'

Umbrella tree: lovely memories from childhood of these - especially watching the water dripping from them after tropical rainstorms.

Unconventionality: because normal is sooo over-rated; and because I believe in a God who is utterly unconventional and in his son, who defied convention.  I love what Frederick Buechner says on this: 'If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully — the life you save may be your own — and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.'
[From: Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner]

Upbeat: well, joy is the simplest form of gratitude [Barth again!]

'V' is for ...

Voyages: of discovery, both inner and outer

Voice: for chatting, singing, for preaching and prayer

Violin: especially when playing Vivaldi!!

'W' is for...

Wilderness: and wildness and living, breathing, growing woods for wandering and wondering.

Worship: and those moments looked-for and unlooked-for when God comes close and takes your breath away

Wonder: and awe and surprise.

'X' is for...
xtraspecially interesting letter - without which other words could not be, but by itself struggles a little  [yes, well, c'mon, it's a bit of a tricky one!]

'Y' is for...

Yachts and yachting, the salt tang in the air, the fresh breeze, the slap of water hitting your face occasionally, the flap of the unfurled sails

Yaks: just because they are cool 

Yellow: sunshine colour that cheers the soul - from daffodils to my happy yellow flat

'Z' is for...

Zebras: predestined to ever follow the fortunes of Newcastle United

Zest: for life and zest that enlivens cooking - both tangy and making life that little bit tastier.

Zinnias: gorgeous, glorious riotous colour.

And that about wraps up the alphabet of gratitude this time around... hurrah.  Task complete :)
Off to muse on farms and fishing for a couple of days....

Friday, 3 September 2010

a robe by any other name...

is still a robe.  
The subject of clerical 'fashion' was one of the many tailends of conversations I wandered into over the course of the recent candidates' conference in St Andrews [apparently, according to Dad, you can play golf there, too, although not necessarily in clerical garb].  As it has cropped up occasionally in my thoughts as well as in other conversations, I thought it was time to have a stab at ... oh dearie me, no: poor phrasing with connotations of 'who will rid me of this troublesome priest?!' ...
[starts again on the 'once more with feeling' principle]
Er, so, thought I'd do that which is required of student ministers these days and 'reflect' on the apparently thorny question of 'to robe, or not to robe?'  
Plus, it gives me an opportunity to highlight a most fabby blog featuring a wondrous collection of pretty piccies which illustrate just how weird, wild and downright wacky some robes can be when good intentions or ample egos make the business of conducting worship decently and in good order that much harder...

'go-faster stripes'?

'fresh expressions' of church took on a whole new meaning, as Rev Lil Surfergirl suddenly emerged through the improvised communion table, dramatically clutching the body of Christ
So, some thoughts -
Context. is. important.  

Robing and worship:
No point when on placement being all robed up when your supervisor is not.  And when doing pulpit supply, as a visitor, aim to fit in as much as possible with the practice of the minister there - a combination of continuity of practice but also courtesy.
On having become a parish minister... over a period of time, you can quietly change the practice if you have a particular theological veiwpoint re. the robes in/ not in worship debate but sensitivity towards the congregation is probably a helpful and kind thing too.  But also, church architecture can play a part in what you might or might not wear.  What is right or appropriate?
Given that there are times when we conduct worship within the civic context, such as Remembrance Sunday, out of sensitivity to those folk who expect you to look like a minister at such an event... yup, bite yer tongue and just do it, I think.

Robes for sacraments - communion and baptisms - well, I would, but that's just me.  There's an aspect of the robing debate that sometimes gets overlooked: putting on 'the uniform' is, I think, a very visual way of noting sacred time and space.  So pre-service wandering about chatting to folks in 'civvies'... and then going off and robing and coming back to conduct worship - useful visual clues/ symbolism that say more than words 'come, now is the time to worship'.
And a reminder to me, at least, that when I put on the 'uniform' this is not about me, it's about 'us':  
1/ God at the relational centre and the reason why 'we' are all here
2/ministry as a relational part of that: as a partnership and whatever is done is done [hopefully] in His name, through the power of His Spirit
3/ relational as a way of going this is indeed the body of Christ here represented in this neck of the as the community of God's people.

Robes on 'ordinary' Sundays - well, again, my own thought is at least clericals/collar - visitors at church can work out who the minister is more quickly!!!! ;)

Outwith worship contexts - sometimes it's useful to have a uniform:
because there are times when, again, it's just sheer respect/ courtesy to wear it.
I think funerals, especially parish ones in which any link with church may be rather tenuous, is where it helps to put on the 'uniform' -
a/ because folk expect you to 'look like a minister' and for easy identification... as in 'who is this stranger chapping on the door, ahh, the minister'. 
b/ I wonder if by dint of wearing the uniform, there is something about conveying of authority [yes, of course, it is God who has the authority] that gives permission to say the tough things, or even gives people a reassurance that you know what you're doing and Great Aunty Ermintrude is in safe hands, as are they?
c/ You are representing the Church as well, I think, as the great communion of saints [and granted, this might not quite be the language folks you're visiting might use] and it is just respectful to oblige when people are in grief contexts
And then there are hospital visits - if needing to be done outside of visiting hours, then it's like a badge that allows access... [just don't go too early - during rounds, during meals - when you'll just get in the way of hospital staff.]
Visiting - being mindful of who we are visiting: for those who are in various stages of dementia, a collar at least will serve to show what you are/ who you represent, and maybe remind some folks of who you are as well.  They may not get your name, but they might at least be provided with a clue by what you're wearing.  It also helps to make folks a little less anxious - so pastorally perhaps reassuring?

Some non-phrases re. non- robing:
'but I don't feel comfortable'
or 'I don't feel like it'
or 'it's not me' ... 
nope, not good enough.  It's a little too 'all about me', I'm afraid.  Find some theological arguments.  There are good ones either side of the discussion; think about why you're going to use/ not use robes and how this might express your particular theology of ministry - not whether it just feels icky.  Hmmm, that sounded a wee bit stern, but it's less about us and more about the folks we're called to serve, innit?  And that certainly crosses both sides of the debate.   

That priestly role 'thang': 
robes can serve to be a reminder of being set apart as well as being a part, perhaps... we have been called as a part of the body of Christ, to be set apart to minister to that body...?
There is the issue of pride - but that argument cuts both ways I think:
it can help stop the pride thang - you cover yourself/ are trying to be less a distraction with those marvellous 'funny ties' or lovely blouses - and are hopefully more a pointer to God.  Yeah, conversely I'm sure some folk love wearing their stuff - robes or ties to say 'look at me'!!!

But I do wonder about the 'reluctance' I sometimes see with regard to wearing the uniform: it makes me wonder if this may occasionally portray an inner wrestling about what it is to take up the call and be a minister and thus,the physical wearing of the uniform is, in that manner, uncomfortable? Not always, but that, too, makes me curious - I just like the way we all tick, really!!

In the end, whichever side of the discussion you are on a couple of useful rules of thumb:
i/It ain't a doctrinal issue - I suspect getting to heaven is not dependant upon the wearing or non-wearing of clerical outfits.

ii/If your clergy get-up gets in the way of ministry, ditch it.  If your non-clergy get-up impedes... get on those clericals. 

And just as a post-script, if you haven't checked her out, go see the wonderful Peacebang's blog over at Beauty tips for Ministers - she is the epitome of style and taste :D
 Okay, maybe just a little too 'tacky'?