Friday, 23 December 2011

Rorate coeli desuper...

NC Communion table: panel inserts by the wondrous Theo
All has been a little quiet on the blogging front recently: have been up to my oxters in domestic abuse, slander, and blood feud... of the 15-16th century kind. 
In the meantime, Advent, that waiting time, has fairly sped on and suddenly Christmas is just around the corner.  
On Friday last, we had our annual lessons and carols service at New College, which was a superbly put together event by friend Fran, with a band of merry helpers, and a jolly good turnout of folk.  A superb mix of scripture and poem and song, plus a 'just managing to hit the right note exactly' brief reflection from my old boss at St. Giles, the Very Rev. Gilleasbuig Macmillan, provided a gentle and warm way in which to signal the nearing end of term [there were still a couple of exams to take place in some cases] and waiting time of Advent.  
Amongst the various readings, I was given William Dunbar's poem On the Nativity of Christ to read which, given its reference to synnaris and penance, was rather apt.  The poem has a wonderful 'shout out joy to all the heavens' feel about it and has been given several musical settings; fabby secondary supervisor Dr P. sang me snatches of one setting later over mulled wine.


On the Nativity of Christ

RORATE coeli desuper!
   Hevins, distil your balmy schouris!
For now is risen the bricht day ster,
   Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
   The cleir Sone, quhom no cloud devouris,
Surmounting Phebus in the Est,
   Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
   Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
   Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,
And all ye hevinly operationis,
   Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
   Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
   That come in to so meik maneir;
   Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
   And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
   To you is cumin full humbly
   Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest,
   And only of his own mercy;
   Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,
   And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
   To him that is of kingis King:
   Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,
   Him honouring attour all thing
   Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
   Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
   Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
   For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
   The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
   Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
   Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
   That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
   Lay out your levis lustily,
Fro deid take life now at the lest
   In wirschip of that Prince worthy
   Qui nobis Puer natus est. 

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
   Regions of air mak armony!
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
   Be mirthful and mak melody!
   All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird, and best,
   He that is crownit abone the sky
   Pro nobis Puer natus est! 

                            William Dunbar, 1460-1522

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

'six minst pyes of an indifferent biggnesse'

An archivist friend of mine passed this one along, and timely and seasonal it is too.
So, here for your delight and delectation, an Early Modern recipe for mince pies from 1624, found in a file of Charles I.
Amongst the ingredients, I quite liked 'reasons of the sunn' - raisins.
History, the gift that just keeps on giving...
Let me know how you get on with the recipe, and feel free to share the results ;p

Monday, 28 November 2011

tearing open the heavens... Advent One

          Isaiah 64: 1-9 ...
 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 
as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— 
to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 
From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, 
no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 
You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. 
But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. 
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 
There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; 
for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; 
we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. 
Now consider, we are all your people. 

The Old Testament reading for Advent 1b is a deep, passionate cry from the heart: calling on God to come, to make known his presence, to rip the heavens apart by way of announcing he is here with us.
I love the drama of it.

And yet, in the midst of heavens being rent asunder, of mountains quaking, of fire kindling into a blaze, are the words:
'when you did awesome deeds that we did not expect...'
Telling words, these.
In the cry for God to come and do awesome deeds, there is a subtle indication that even while the cry is made, we are still taken by surprise when God answers.
Is there a recognition implicit in these words that while we might cry out for mighty deeds, we are a little worried that they may actually happen?
Alternatively, that we are not in the least of the mind-set that they actually will...and that our invocations are made quite blithely?
I'm reminded of the Narnia books and the talk of Aslan who is 'not a tame lion, you know.'
In our worship, in word and sign and symbol, is there a strange parallel occuring?
On the one hand, saying words and performing actions that indicate that we are followers of one who indeed can rend the heavens....
On the other, oddly domesticating our rituals, organising worship in such a way that it resembles a rather dull business meeting, and in the process attempting to de-claw the wild, unpredictable, awesome God who we call upon... and who will rather upset the apple-cart by doing all that decidedly messy awesome-type stuff.
Friend Fran tells a fab. story of the making of the movie 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' -
John Wayne, at the scene of the crucifixion delivers his line: 'Truly this man was the son of God.' 
The director stops and asks Wayne if he could perhaps say it with a little more awe.  Wayne nods, the cameras roll, and he utters the memorable line:
'Aww, truly this man was the son of God.'
In our worship to God, in our expectations of God, are we more 'awww' than awe, I wonder? 
And how might we recapture the latter this Advent, through this coming church year, and throughout the rest of our lives?

Friday, 18 November 2011


Chapel, World Council of Churches, Switzerland
In 2010, a small group of New College ministry students and a couple of our Prof's went on an educational trip to Geneva.  We were there for just under a week, it was fab., and I blogged a wee bit about it here. 

One of the days saw us spend time at the World Council of Churches [WCC] and then head off after lunch to the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, where studies in ecumenism can be undertaken for short concentrated periods, or up to Masters level.  At both places we were met with hospitality, shown around, the work discussed.  A good day for getting some thoughts going.  However, what has stuck with me was a comment made by a fellow student on the bus heading back to Geneva:
'What's the point of ecumenism, it's not like they're going to become Christians, is it?'
I remember my eyes slightly popping out of my head and inwardly sighing at the same time....
Nevertheless, his comment has stuck with me and this week seems to have popped up back into my thoughts once again.

I got to thinking about how there seems to be a very huge disconnect:
on one hand there are the professional international ecumenical structures and people within them who produce reports, host conferences, create resources, and of course do a heck of a lot more besides. 
Ecumenism at the corporate level. 
On the other, there's ecumenism that bubbles up at the local level: a group of churches of different backgrounds and traditions working together on specific projects, or occasionally sharing worship, joint study groups, etc.
My sense is that the disconnect is a communicational one. 
Does ecumenism shoot itself in the foot by the way information is shared - or not shared, or the manner in which it is shared? 
Does ecumenism at the 'top' get caught up in the big structures that it forgets to provide information to folk at the local end? 
If it does provide information is it written in the language of 'the corporation', creating reports that obscure information? 
Who does it pass the information on to? 
Are initiatives, and the ongoing work of ecumenism shared with a very select group within ecumenical corporate/ academic/ theological groups? 
Is this lack of effective communicating creating a growing suspicion of ecumenical work at the very top echelons - money spent on junkets and talk-fests, etc.? 
Or is the lack of information such that folk don't really think about ecumenism enough to be either suspicious, lukewarm, or excited about it? 
Coupled with all of that, even the very word 'ecumenism' is interpreted by different traditions in very different ways.

How do we learn to make use the work done at the higher echelons of ecumenism? 
Does it even fit at the local level? 
How do we ensure high calibre theological discussion is maintained, and also that it is shared in such a way as to make it a useful and enriching resource for folk in the pews?
How do we demonstrate that ecumenism / working together can be a powerfully enriching thing, a useful way in which to marshal limited resources as we work together - rather than reinventing the wheel in our own small corner?
How do we market ecumenism and make it sexy? 

Still thinking.
I suspect it's not one of those instant quick-fix solution type matters...!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

peas, perfect peas...

I haven't written for a while, she said, stating the blindingly obvious.
Immersed in sin and penance, me.  Well, pre-Reformation sin and penance in Scotland, at any rate.  I had thought that this particular thesis section, c. 16-18 000 words, was going to be a little more straightforward: the research was fab. but the writing has been like getting blood out of a stone, however, it is getting there and the time away at St Deniol's did help.  The more I write, the more details I find I have to put in, whether in the body of the text or in footnotes and I was quite impressed by the recent heavily bibliographical footnote of 487 words.  Friend Fran commented that it had finally become a 'real' thesis!   In the meantime, I keep forgetting that while I know about various bits and pieces, it still needs to be shown in some way on paper that I do, for examination purposes...and find myself trogging back over paragraphs hoping that I've made some reference or other to background, or given an appropriate definition of a term.  If I ever get this whole thing done and actually pass the PhD, I am hoping that organising a possible book will be a much more straightforward process.
Well, I can kid myself on.

Thinking along things that are also not quite straightforward... 
this Sunday just gone was Remembrance Sunday, a day with lots of whirling thoughts, emotions, and symbols.  A trainee pal of mine was slotted to preach and so I had gone along to quietly cheer her on.  I was particularly aware of when I went off into 'sermon loop' space, that is, the time during the sermon where a word of phrase sends you on a little train of thought to somewhere else before looping around and plugging you back into the sermon.  Given the type of Sunday, the trigger was the word 'peace' and I heard the sermon loop train coming to take me away. 
I was reminded of a story about a friend's sister who had been having a rather trying day.  Sitting in the living room with children wanting this, or husband wanting that, she cried out plaintively 'I just want some peace!'  A hush duly descended, followed by youngest wee boy c. 3 or 4 leaving the room and then reappearing and, in an effort to comfort his mummy, quietly handing her a bag of frozen peas.

It was a brief thought, followed by an even briefer one as I mused on how often we misunderstand what peace is....

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Gladstones, Gladstones everywhere, but not a choc to eat

And back to thinking of my stay at St Deniol's / Gladstone's Library.

yes, rather wonderful.

Fab. accommodation, fab and friendly staff, fab food - tho' alas, no small chocolate bars to buy and surreptitiously snack on in the dark reaches of the night, as opposed to the dark reaches of the library, because, as you know: 

eating in libraries is wrong, dear ones. 
*looks over glasses in a severe manner*

Happily got into a routine of falling out of the most comfy bed in Christendom and being fed breakfast
before walking to the library down the corridor festooned with icons and statues of the great man, Gladstone.
Then having worked, not pfaffed [miracle!!], sashaying back along the row upon rows of non-smiling Gladstones for a little smackeral of lunch, a post-prandial walk 'round the grounds, and then back to the desk and work.
Eventually, the delights of good food in the evening, not cooked by me - and no washing up, yay - and then retiring to the drawing room and the fire-place for one's coffee.

Really, a super place and I'm looking forward to spending two weeks there in February to get cracking on more writing: I actually got some work done.
Having seen the place in the autumn, it will be quite lovely to see it in the first flush of spring.

Just a shame that on the way down I stupidly forgot my greatcoat in the overhead rack as I changed trains at Crewe.
leather gloves
full set of house keys
flash drive with back up files and scanned maps for thesis...

Having tried lost property and other avenues - with the very helpful Virgin folk [not ironic, they were lovely] - I am still without these.
Somewhere out there, in the wilds of the UK I have a vision of a black overcoat being ferried back and forth between train stations, wandering far from home....

Thankfully, I didn't have my phone or wallet in the coat, so it could have been quite a lot worse.
Again, I reflect on the truth:
of all the things I've lost in life,
it's my mind I miss the most....

Mind, I do think the library would make a killing marketing a line in chocolate Gladstones... jus' sayin'

Monday, 31 October 2011

the 'grace' thang...

The phone has just rung: was I interested in the completely free double-glazing of all my windows being offered?
Ah... an offer to good to refuse.
And so, naturally, I politely refused and wished the chap on the other end of the line a nice day.

'There's no such thing as a free lunch...', nor, I feel, free windows.
However the brief conversational interlude seems apt to think a little on the nature of grace.

In the church, we bang on about the grace of God - a free, unmerited gift - and at times, politely refuse to accept the gift, or ignore it quietly.
Conditions are placed on it: you get the grace thang when you do x or y.
We get the grace thang.
Full Stop.

And because it is freely given, it is oft-times politely and not-so-politely refused.  As if we just can't believe it.
By extension, it is then easy to point fingers, to refuse to act in grace, to be ungracious.
We, as this rag-tag broken body of Christ, differ on opinions so vehemently at times that lack of grace blinds us to the fact that regardless of opinion, we are all of us created in the image of God, and loved utterly.

Grace is a paradox:
Grace is free,
Grace is costly.

Look where grace got Jesus....
It is a kenotic - self-giving - thing that, taken to the limit goes beyond our limits.

And grace, though freely given, is constantly challenging.
Grace challenges me to see the face of God even in - especially in - the one who calls me an 'abomination';
to look beyond the words and see a beloved brother or sister in Christ who is probably as full of contradictions and mess as I am. 
Grace challenges me to avoid retaliating through the use of dehumanising language borne out of hurt and frustration.

Grace, then, is that free gift which challenges me to meet others in, and with, that same grace given to me, and yet, even as I do so, it is grace that holds me up, gives me strength, causes me to laugh out loud at times... and keeps me going.  And even should I choose to refuse that challenge, grace remains.

I came across the following from the blog-site 
'christians tired of being misrepresented' and thought it worth chewing over... 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

'ooooh heaven is a place on earth'

St Deniol's Library
In the words of the old Belinda Carlisle song: 'ooooh heaven is a place on earth'.
Or in this case, academic nerdy geek heaven, at least. 
I write this on a Virgin train heading to 'Paradise'... St Deniol's Library in Hawarden, just inside the Welsh border and a mere 6 miles away from the loveliness that is Chester.
St Deniol's, or to give it its new name as of 2010 'Gladstone's Library', is the UK's only residential library, and was created and given to the nation by that most impressive of Victorian statesmen William Gladstone.  Gladstone, an avid book lover, had collected about 32 000 books over the course of his rather long life and the library has considerably more these days.

My secondary thesis supervisor and I were having lunch yesterday and she described St D's as a type of 'academic boot camp'.
And so I'm off to boot camp to craft and polish the current chapter I've been working on... living in a library filled with over 200 000 books.
Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! :)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

'where's the hole in the polo?'

I do enjoy the vagaries of academia sometimes: today's random snippet:

Conversation with academic supervisor:
She, searching for gaps in the thesis plan: 'hmmm, where's the hole in the polo?' which I responded:
'Ah, I grew up calling them "lifesavers!"

Later, as I was sending my supervision memo off, I recalled lifesavers, so idly google-imaged.  Behold: butterscotch lifesavers.  The cross-cultural image straight from 1950's non-decimalised Oz [before my time, I hasten to add!!].
The ad tag-line I remember, however, was 'get a hole lot more out of life'

Re. previous blog-post: vision now restored and copious thanks to several techie pals.  And given I was fiddling aboot, thought a change of template might also be a good thing.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

techie friends, help ...?

I appear to have lost all the pics uploaded over the life of this blog.  I do not understand. 
There's a mystery dying to be solved.
I have a chapter to write of the thesis before I completely disembowelled...

Heeeelp meeeeee.....

Saturday, 8 October 2011

mud wrestling in the Christian community

Gazillions of years ago, as a fresh-faced wee Christian, I went off for a couple of years to what was then known as the Bible College of Queensland.  Being from a more middle-of-the-road style denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, I confess there was certainly some culture shock upon entering a more...conservative environment.

Initially, a strange new language comprised of odd acronymns, which, I realised later, were actually forms of shorthand for such things as missionary societies or various theological dogmas: PSA - penal substitutionary atonement; TULIP, which was not, as I thought, a reference to pretty spring flowers, but Calvinist points of reference....  And then, odd cultural differences: on inviting a friend to come to a dance, she observed that she didn't dance.  Blithely I piped up to say that it was alright, as it was very informal and the band taught and called the dance steps.  Ah, no.  Not that she couldn't dance, but rather she wouldn't dance. 

But why this little trip down memory lane?  Ah, who said teachers aren't influential?  I believe it was in a course entitled 'Principles of Christian Living', taught by a chap named Ivan Bowden, that I first encountered this week's lectionary readings, Philippians 4:1-13.  It was a discussion on unity/ harmony/ living peacefully with one another...and in the reading, we encountered two women who rejoiced in the names of Euodia and Syntyche.  Suffice to say that there had been a little friction and disharmony between said women: the writer of the epistle noting that the behaviour brought discredit not only upon them but upon the community.  Mr Bowden, to illustrate a point imagined a dialogue between 'you're odious' and 'so touchy'.  Of course, every time I happen upon this reading, these two poor women are now forever cursed to go through life with the variant names. 

Here, too, is a place where at times it is truly unhelpful to be a visual thinker: the two also end up in my head in an ongoing mud-wrestling situation....  Although, given the various disputes that arise in church and threaten to cause disunity, there's sommat to be said for mud wrestling as the way forward with regard to dispute settlement, as well as a useful way of getting the congregation to focus on the one thing... as well as a potential source of income for the roof fund.  

Yeah, I wonder how that might preach...?!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

the trouble with interpretation...

The picture at left caught my eye today and set me off on a train of thought with regard to matters of interpretation....

One of the ever-present 'features' of the Voldemort discussion surrounds interpretation of scripture.
Some cry: 'plain meaning of the text'.
Others cry: 'it's more nuanced'.
Yet others just sigh in despair and shake their heads wondering what all the fuss is about.
All in our own way attempting to get on with the job of living, loving, and bumblingly trying to serve God.

What are the implications of interpretation when it comes to discipleship?
What if our understanding is all wrong, or misguided?
Conversely, how can we know we may have just managed to get it right?
I think 1 Cor. 13 'for we know in part' is helpful - or provides me with some small comfort.  We mess up: we don't have the whole picture, and the passage continues with the sense that we 'see through a glass darkly', as the KJV  phrases it so poetically.  I don't often go to the Greek, as my proficiency is pretty rubbish, but occasionally, it's a useful way of seeing a well known passage/verse/word in a different way, as the eye doesn't just slide over as easily.  For some reason, I was drawn to do so with this well-loved chapter, and in doing, I've had one of those personal little 'aha' moments, looking at the Greek word translated as 'darkly', αινιγματι... where our English word 'enigmatic' comes from.

Of course we're all bumbling along: why should this take us by surprise?  We worship God known, and yet unknown.  In faltering footsteps we make our way in faith and attempt to follow our energetic, enabling, and enigmatic God.  We explore the journey of the people of God throughout time and various places as they wander and ponder and stumble in the dim half-light of revelation.  We hear the stories of Jesus, and of those who followed him as they furrow their brows and puzzle over just who he might be. 
We look for clues, and take our cue, at times, from them.  And as we do, we see a history of getting it wrong, and getting it gloriously right, and all the stuff that there is in between.
It's a humbling thing.
It's a scary thing.
What if we get it wrong?
Perhaps in that fear of making mistakes,
perhaps in the fear of the unknown, we surround ourselves in the strange comfort of rules and regulations nit-picked to the nth degree that, instead of helping free us, not only bind us, but bind others.

Law - rules and regulations - often get a bad press.
Personally, I think God must be Presbyterian: the ten commandments are helpful guidelines to assist us to live life decently and in good order.  Laws, codes of practice, however one wishes to describe them, are, in their very essence, relational.  The ten commandments are communitarian in context: being in communion with God and one another, being in harmony in both our vertical and horizontal relationships.  This is why the psalmist can describe those who follow God's law as happy:
Ps.119: 1-2 'Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the way of the Lord.  Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart.'
Or link law and delight together - surely an oxymoron :) :
Ps. 119: 16, 77, 174 - 'I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word'/ 'your law is my delight'.

Historically, has there been a shonky interpretation of the word 'law' by the Church when it comes to following God, I wonder?
Has 'law' been misinterpreted and used as a tool to beat people down over the centuries - the ultimate 'power-tool', in effect?
Is law about power...or about love?  
Thinking of the psalmist's delight in God's law, I wonder if seeking after God whole-heartedly might incline us to use the law as a means of grace, building people up, setting the captives free...creating a little foretaste of the kin-dom of heaven on earth and furthering our journey into God, both enigmatic and known? And linking back to 1 Cor. 13... is the law of the Lord actually all about love?
In the end, does

Saturday, 24 September 2011

'Mawwidge is wot bwings us togevva'

A bit of a rambling post today...

Came across this pie chart earlier today: the section on polar ice caps melting made me grin, given all the ongoing chat about global warming.  Maybe they are, maybe not.

Was at a discussion last night with the gloriously broad title 'God and Sex' [which God, what kind of sex?!] and again thought that if ever I were to write a book on sexual ethics, I would have to entitle it 'Sexual positions'. :)

The discussion was an oddly irenic one, as opposed to the general slanging matches that tend to hit the news.  This was rather cheering, however, it should be noted that none of the three speakers could really be described as 'right-leaning' in their views.  Richard Holloway discussed themes from a book of his, 'Godless Morality', observing the need to remove God out of the ethical context to better enable more sensible, fruitful discussion.  Sara Parvis countered with the comment that, given we were discussing what the Church had to say re. sex, God was rather right in the midst of the whole discussion and it would be an odd thing to even think of separating God from an ethic that was faith-based.  Augustine and Aquinas received honourable mentions.... While Ian Paton apologised 'for being an Anglican' after an 'on the other hand...' comment.

In what was a wide-ranging discussion concerning the broad spectrum of human sexuality/ies, a major question raised was how to define marriage/ the purpose of marriage.  Certainly, in the on-going Church of Scotland discussion regarding same-gender relationships and clergy, I've often felt that the starting point really should be to ask how we define the term 'marriage'.  And here I'm reminded of the glorious Peter Cook, who unashamedly stole the show in his cameo in 'The Princess Bride' - ' wot bwings us...togevva'


What is marriage?
Is it only valid if procreation is involved?
What about those who are infertile or who marry later in life: procreation in these circumstances is not possible....
Is it a misuse of 'marriage' to join these couples together?
If not, then why allow the marriage - what is its purpose here, if not for means of procreation?
If the purpose here is for companionship, then why can this not be allowable for same-gender couples?  I'm thinking of 1 Cor. 7:9 -
'But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.'
This text is fine and dandy if one is heterosexual... but what if one is not and the stance is that only heterosexuals can be married/ have their relationship legitimised?  Should the text then read:
'it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion - except if you fall in love with people of the same gender.  In that case, sorry, you basically just have to burn.'

Currently then, the received wisdom from the Church [in many cases] would be that LGBT people are called to live to a higher standard than their heterosexual brothers and sisters... and reviled when they fail to make the grade.  In this, Michael Vasey opined that 'the Church is dangerous to gay people...' and that 'the Church provided no viable strategy by which to live his life.' [I believe in a CofE synod in the 90's].
In all the [endless/ round and round /torturous] discussions on sexuality and the Church, it is a thing of sadness to me that human relationships end up being boiled down to merely focusing upon the sexual act.  I'd like to think that being in a partnership was a much broader, richer thing - in which sex played a part [or perhaps not for whatever reason], but was not the sole component or focus....
So, what is marriage?
Who is it for?
Why do it?
And why is the Church seemingly getting it's knickers in more of a twist about this matter which is not a substance of the faith matter, than feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners, clothing the naked, encouraging folk to love one another just as Christ loved us...?

*grin* I did say at the start that this was a rambling post, lol!  
As ever, this is merely a springboard to get some of my own thoughts a little more finely tuned.  

Monday, 19 September 2011

Herding cats...

It has been one of those weeks... which would best be described as a little like herding cats.  Which reminded me of this great advert below:

Monday, 12 September 2011

Retribution, reconciliation, restoration?

 It seems somewhat apposite that the gospel reading for this Sunday, 11th September, comes from Matthew 18: 21-35 - the parable of the unforgiving servant.
The story features a king and two slaves.
In the opening sequence, the king calls his servants to account for outstanding debts.  The first of the slaves is brought before the king: his debt is vast - ridiculously vast.  The king decides that the best option available is to not only sell off the slave, but to sell off the slave's family and all their possessions.  The slave falls on his knees, begging for time to pay the debt.
The king, moved by pity, releases him and forgives the debt.
But the story doesn't quite end with that.
Having been shown mercy, and now released, this slave decides that he will do his own reckoning as he bumps into another slave who owes him a pittance.  He asks for his money and the same scene plays out:
2nd slave falls on his knees and utters virtually word for word what the first slave had said to the king.
However, this time, no mercy.  A pound of flesh is sought and the chap thrown into prison.
The other servants, distressed by this, go to the king who has the initial slave hauled in before him.
This time, no mercy, quite substantial wrath.
The message: to forgive one another from the heart.
Reconciliation - debts paid/ offences forgiven.
Restoration of ... relationship, status, dignity.
Retribution on those who don't forgive.
[which is a strange kind of irony - ultimately no forgiveness for unforgiveness?]

In the course of my research, wading through various 16th century kirk session records that note the offences and required/ performed repentance of everyday people [and some high heid'yins as well] I've been doing some work on the place of the church and community reconciliation.  This ranges from flyting to blood feud.

Flyting was your basic neighbourly slanging match and defamation of character [and by heck, these 16th c folks really knew how to insult each other rather amazingly] with the parties coming before the session, talking through what had been said, and working through to the requisite ritual of repentance: usually a speech formula in which the offender somehow physically held their own tongue, and then commenced their apology/ contrition with the words 'tongue you lied', and that they knew 'nothing but good and honest of [insert name here].'  This, usually done on one's knees in front of the offended party.  The response to this ritual was then the offendee noting their satisfaction with the offender's apology and the ritual of shaking hands in front of the session.  Sometimes, if it were a rather big stooshie, the shaking of the hands would also be seen in a public place, generally done at the market cross.  It was a visible ritual which signalled to the community as well as those reconciling, that this was the end of the dispute.

In the case of the blood feud, 4 representatives from each family were required to work through to an agreement, deciding what 'compensation' would restore the peace between the affected families.  This did not always involve monetary compensation - the offender might go to live with the family of the person who had been killed and, in a sense, replace the labour lost to that family.  When families had reached agreement, and the conditions of that agreement had been met, the family of the deceased would issue a letter of slains - a document stating that all compensation had been made and that the offender was now released from their obligations.
Satisfaction had been made; while life might never be the same again, restoration of relationship/s and community harmony had been achieved for a while.
Time for all to move on.

Of course, it was not always hunky dory afterwards: in the session records there are cases in which the same names keep coming up, with the same arguments.  People are only human after all!  But this reconciliation process fascinates me, particularly in light of the preamble to the telling of the parable mentioned at the start of this post.  Peter comes to Jesus wanting to know the exact number of times one should forgive a fellow member in the church.
"Seven times," suggests Peter rather magnanimously given the Rabbinical rule of thumb was three times.
And then from Jesus the astonishing answer 70x7.
That's 490 times... and the question floats about in my head 'how would you keep track of that?'  And the point is, the number is so large, it's almost impossible to keep score.
So don't keep score, let it go. 
A crazy number which demonstrates that forgiveness should be the default position: letting go, working through to wholeness - personal, communal, spiritual.

Retribution, however, seems to be a natural default position:
you insult me, I insult you;
you hit me, I hit you right back;
you bomb me, I drop a bomb on you;
you kill me, my family/ friends/ fellow citizens/ God smites you;
and so the cycle of violence goes until all that's left is the dust and ashes.

Reconciliation and the restoration of relationship is harder.
It's an action in which the process of dehumanisation is reversed:
after all, t's easier to follow the path of retribution if you reduce the offender into a non-human first.
The act of reconciliation requires more effort: it is easier to destroy and much harder to build.
Reconciliation brings us face to face with a fellow human being - not a monster, not a scumbag, not an animal.
It is somehow a harder, more terrifying thing to treat as human someone who has done something that society, that you, think is utterly reprehensible.
I wonder why, and partly think it is perhaps because in the act of confronting a fellow human, as opposed to 'an animal', it brings us uncomfortably close to confronting our own dark side.
In the long reaches of the night, perhaps it terrifies us to think what we, too, might be capable of - or how our own behaviour may have caused such a reaction.

The practice of forgiveness / or non-forgiveness eventually comes down to control and power.
The act of forgiveness could even be said to have an element of self-preservation/ self-interest about it - I vaguely recall Desmond Tutu saying something along those lines, but am a bit woolly and the time is late and my eyelids drooping.
So the question:
Do we keep score - hold onto the wounds - nurse the anger until it makes us bitter and dehumanises us?  Because to do so is to enable the one who has offended to continue to hold the power over the situation.
Everything done will be done working within reference to the one who has caused, and continues to cause harm...because we keep holding on.
We want to equate retribution with justice, and they are utterly different.
Retribution, while  satisfying initially, is ultimately hollow, for the need for vengeance is, in the end, never really satisfied.  It's a little like pick-pick-picking at a scab and never allowing it to heal.
Do we learn to forgive - let go of all that threatens to dehumanise us?
And how do we learn to be people of forgiveness - to do justice with mercy?

Which brings me full circle to this particular day, September 11, and thoughts on retribution, reconciliation, and restoration.  A decade on, and there is a sense that the constant picking at the scab of retribution has resulted in bodily mutilation.  A process of maiming resulting in ongoing loss of life through armed conflict, and for some the inability to move on with their lives through nursing their hurt.
What lessons can we learn and how do we actively work towards breaking down the chains of unforgiveness that hold and shackle, and prevent lives from being lived in all their fullness?
Perhaps now, a decade on from Sept 11, those who have kept the hurt and who marked this 10 year anniversary around the world in some way today, may now let go and begin to heal.

Friday, 12 August 2011

a little bean spilling makes a great new all-age resource

Popping my head up from underneath the books and manuscripts [and perfectly preserved arm of St Giles complete with diamond pinky ring] to flag up a fabby resource put together by an excellent bunch of folk. 
It's called Spill the Beans.   I've had a trial of some earlier material and it was really great to be able to add it to my resources 'treasure-chest' of helpful material that I'd be happy to recommend [and I am pretty darned picky!]  It fits nicely alongside Roots and Seasons of the Spirit - having, what I'd categorise as, a good middle of the road, social justice-oriented, lectionary-based, and fun approach to all-age worship.
Why not check out the free download and give it a trial run?

Monday, 1 August 2011

Religious 404 error

Was sent the following by the wondrous 'Spot' earlier this evening.  I think I should share the joy....  Do feel free to add to the list :D ...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Wode Psalter pt 2: a self-portrait?

Wode part-books
Picture from the Cantus part book, Wode Psalter.

A possible self-portrait of Thomas Wode?

Just some of the detail that can be found in the upcoming exhibition 'Singing the Reformation'.