Saturday, 29 December 2012

lectionary leanings: Luke 2: 41-52 a child in the midst

For what it's worth, some of my own potted ramblings and ponderings on the gospel passage for tomorrow.    
The lectionary time-warp at this time every year makes me laugh: this time last week Jesus hadn't actually been born yet; now, suddenly, he's 12 - they grow so fast... :)

The young Jesus, along with his family, are in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  The reading implies that this is an annual practice that this family, immediate and extended, appear to keep.  Once the Passover has been and gone, all begin the journey home, but Jesus quietly turns back and heads off to the temple.

Cue scene at the temple: here's a kid - well, a young man given he's 12 - sitting there amongst the teachers, all the wise and learned folk. 
There he is listening to all that's being discussed.  This is important: it makes the point that there's a maturity in the way he is engaging - he listens first, speaks second, he's not just spouting off. 
He then a
sks questions; he is curious about this faith/ religion and wants to know more, wants to see how things are, how they work, what things mean, and why this is so.
All who hear him are amazed: they hear him.  Here's a bunch of grown ups who are taking a young person seriously:

1/ by letting him remain in their midst in the first place, not sending him out to do some activity...
2/ by responding to him - they are obviously answering his questions - or at least in conversation
3/ by not shutting him up
4/ by acknowledging that this young'un has something of value to say/ to add to the conversation.

If I were prepping for sermon tomorrow, I think I might be inclined to head along a theme of how we engage with the younger folk in our parish / congregation...
how do we make space for them?
how do we engage with them?
do we listen?
do we acknowledge there's something we can learn
do we allow space for them to listen and speak...?
if we have a conversation, is it one way or two way?...
when we say 'we want more children and young people' - do we really mean that?  Or, is it conditional - only when it is on our terms?

In the passage, the boy Jesus is not merely tolerated, but accepted and even celebrated as a valued person in their midst. If we don't value our young people - on various spiritual/ practical/ emotional etc. levels, we should not be surprised if 'numbers' [ugh 'success' measured as statistics, dislike!] are low... and rather, be surprised if we do actually have some at all.

hmmm, accidentally now have half a sermon... ooops.

Friday, 7 December 2012

meanwhile, 96 000 words into the thesis...

Haggis Hunt

*talking to earlier research Nikki version*
'gosh, I'm actually impressed - you really did do more than just play computer games when looking at this particular section of the thesis. Jolly well done self.' 
*earlier research Nikki*
'why thank you. There were indeed occasions when I needed a little distracting from rescuing naughty sorceresses and such-like. Although, I note with pleasure the return of that much-loved favourite game at this time of year 'Hunt the Haggis'. What impact do you think its return will have on your current thesis section?' 
*current research Nikki...furrows brow...looks up from game*
'Hmmmm? Ack, just missed a golden haggis in Loch Ness...' 
*earlier research Nikki*
'Ahhhh. Plus ├ža change'
*cue sound of gurgling haggis in background*

Saturday, 24 November 2012

we ordain women because we baptise girls...

The thesis is, rightly, giving me little time to do anything else at the moment; I am immersed in the performances of penitential Protestants and desperately trying to write up.  I did pause, however, the other day to follow the live feed on the discussion and vote for/ against women being ordained as bishops in the CofE.

While I am not Anglican, I am grieving for friends who are - and for those in particular who are training for, or have been ordained into, the priesthood.  I never did quite understand why this was not sorted out when women were allowed to become priests in the CofE 20-odd years ago - by 2 votes I believe.  Then again, I have never managed to quite get my head around the fact that women being called to ministry is an issue - given 50ish% of humanity are women.   We ordain women because we baptise girls...!

The strange technicalities of voting meant that while an overwhelming majority voted in favour of allowing women to become bishops, the motion fell by just 6 votes; each of the three 'houses' needing to have a two thirds majority, which was not what happened in the house of laity.  I was reminded of our own arcane ways and processes: of motions proposed at General Assembly and sent down under the Barrier Act, that come back with a resounding 'no' a year later, this often based on the will of tiny presbyteries of 6 or 10 or 12 parishes who have the same power as larger presbyteries of 50, 80, or over 100 parishes within them. 

While I am not always convinced that the church should bring things in on a majority vote, neither am I convinced by the checks and balances that have been put in place with the (rightly so) intent to safeguard against whim, to ensure folk with different views don't get trodden on, etc.  What I am more convinced about, however, is that the systems in place within our institutions are set up in a default position that mitigates against bringing any kind of change.
No system put in place will please everyone; no system is perfect.
And yet, despite our flawed systems and institutions which seem to be built as monuments to fear, God still manages to manoeuvre between the cracks despite our 'best' intentions to stymie things.
I wonder what building systems based on trust would look like, and how they might work? 
Systems designed to work with God and each other in generous grace and mutuality and without the fear that needs to control who is in, who is out, and who gets to make the rules?

In the meantime, came across this courtesy of a friend, which is as fitting a response to what occurred within the CofE this week as I have seen:
When I am ordained, I shall wear purple
with killer heels and bright red lipstick
And I shall go round preaching from the Bible
...The liberating truth that Jesus calls women
and tell those who say otherwise that it is they,
not I, who are bad theologians.

I shall sit down with fellow clergy
when we are tired of fighting for equality
and going the extra mile with grace when we are put down,
And we will make up for it:
by encouraging one another as Scripture says,
and praying for those who abuse us,
and rejoicing that we are suffering
(but just a little bit) for Jesus,
And we might even eat some chocolate.

I will adopt the ordination name “Junia”,
and remind those who object,
that there may be a boy named Sue somewhere in the world,
but there probably isn’t.

But now we must face the world,
Who think we are traitors to our sex
For working for the Church
And face our brothers and sisters who think
We are being unbiblical
And face those in our Churches
who have failed to notice the pain this week has brought.
And we will go in the strength of Christ.
We will not turn our backs on our calling
Because God is not finished with the Church,
And He is faithful.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am ordained, and start to wear purple.

by Rev Mia Smith

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

church recruitment: aim low and you're never disappointed

back of church sunday
And finally, we are looking for someone to volunteer for the post of church treasurer...
I sense a new direction to take when it comes to encouraging folk to get involved in church leadership/ or other offices within it... Perhaps we have been guilty of too much spin?  Or of over-accentuating the positive?  Or a little obsessed with 'fresh expressions' of church?  
How about the following attempt: 
Wondering what to do with your life?
Tried lots of things but not really managed to achieve much?
Are you a wee bit feeble?
Possibly stupid?
Vaguely spiritual?
A loser in love's cruel lottery?
Take heart! There is one more option you could explore!
In the comforting words of G. D. Henderson: 
'if one were not strong enough in body or mind to become a satisfactory robber baron, or if one had a leaning to contemplation or sainthood, or if one had failed in the marriage market, then the Church offered its opportunities.' [G. D. Henderson, The Scottish Ruling Elder, p12]
Marvellous... although, personally, I quite fancy having a go at being a satisfactory robber baron :)
He does go on to discuss 'a remarkable cleavage in society'.  The mind boggles!!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Providence, plague, and punishment in Perth, 1585

When it comes to the public performance of
penance and the punishments given to offenders in early modern Scotland, context matters...

Perth, in October 1585, was being ravaged by the plague.  Having a providential view of God, the kirk was keen to root out any behaviour that had obviously caused God's wrath to visit the town in the form of the 'pest'.  Further, to demonstrate their repentance to the watching God, the kirk session had called for the townsfolk to undertake an octave [8 days] of ritual fasting.

On the 'first Sonnday of the holie communion and of publict fast' an unfortunate and, alas, unmarried couple George Makchanse and Elspet Cudbert were caught in flagrante delicto; buck naked in bed together.
In reaction to the dire horrors being visited upon the town, the session took an exceptionally dim view, and a very severe line.  George and Elspet endured a most public performance of repentance for the 'sclander' they had caused, and for the potential peril that they had placed the town in.
The minute of the session record notes that on the Saturday following, they were to be 'cartit bakwart throuche the town from the said Elspet house quhair they war apprehendit, haiffand paper hattis on thair headis, ...and thairafter to be wardit til Sonnday at quhat tyme the officiaris sall convoy thame with thair paper hattis to the the [sic] publict seat of repentance, that thair they may confes thair offence and ask god and the cong[regation] forgifnes for the sclander thay gaif and evil exampil to utheris to commit the lyk.'
[Perth Kirk Session Minutes CH2/ 521/1 f.117 - or see the wonderful Margo Todd's newly printed transcription, p325]

Being carted backwards physically and visibly demonstrated that George and Elspet had morally gone the wrong way, further, the said cart was very probably the dung cart and as it passed through the town with the hapless couple on board the townsfolk would have not only flung insults upon them, but would also have made use of rotten eggs and veg., dung and dirt.  The cart, having begun its journey at the 'scene of the crime', as it were, was then driven around the town, the most likely route taking them around all the town gates.  This ensured that the whole town saw the couple's disgrace and was able to demonstrate its displeasure.
As to the paper hats... often in public rituals paper hats, or badges made of paper were worn on which had been written the offence.  This further compounded humiliation and, in effect, was a witness to show why repentance was required.

After the humiliation of being taken around the town and being on display to all their neighbours, the couple were required to spend the night warded - those guilty of sexual sins were held in the kirk tower, which was infested with vermin, and being 12 sq. foot, very cramped.
The next morning, George and Elspet were then required to be symbolically on display to God in the kirk in the midst of the community of the godly.  Here, at the stool of repentance, situated in the front of the church just by the pulpit - thus facing the congregation - the couple were to publicly confess their sin, and having done so, ask forgiveness of God and of the congregation.  This ritual, designed to restore divine and neighbourly relationship, had the added spur of desperately trying to avoid further visitations of God's wrath upon an already hard-pressed community.  George and Elspet were viewed to have put the lives of their neighbours into deathly danger.  It is this context that frames the severity of the punishment meted out to them.
As an aside: the couple had already been marginalised from the rest of the community.  Suspected of being infected with plague, they were both holed up in the lodgings used for those with plague, situated outside the town wall.  They seem not to have succumbed; George's name was brought up before the session twice in the following March for having failed to marry Elspet as promised.  Elspet is later mentioned in 1587, complaining that her husband spends more time with his friend than he does her - there's no indication that the husband is George, however. 

From the autumn of 1584, plague had stalked the town mercilessly, ultimately resulting in a loss of approximately a quarter of its population - 1 427 people. In the January 1585, the only recorded instance in Perth of a couple being executed for adultery is noted.  Accompanying plague, famine was rife from February 1585, and the town was in a desperate situation.  The session administered poor relief, organised a rationing system, and as the monies from the poor box depleted, took the expedient step of allowing first time fornicators to pay fines for 'pious uses' instead of appearing on the repentance stool.  Todd observes that:
'in the midst of a natural  disaster understood as divine judgement for the toleration of sin, the need of the community to identify and eliminate the source of plague overcame the commitment of the kirk to securing repentance, amendment of life, and re-integration of sinners into the community of the faithful.... Reformed discipline amidst the crisis of epidemic disease gave way to sheer terror and primitive recourse to scapegoats.'
[Todd, The Perth Kirk Session Books, 44-45]

As I sit plotting my Perth Kirk Session spreadsheet and classifying the session minutes, there are far more entries concerned with administration matters - election of elders; settling communion examinations and arranging the distribution of communion; and organising poor relief. Within the three years of August 1584-1587 that I'm currently examining, what does seem to feature rather prominently are entries noting various couples wanting their banns of marriage proclaimed - if I haven't miscounted, these account for 155 in total.  The session entries in which severe punishments feature, and this includes excommunication, are the exception and not the rule.  Overall, between 1577-1590, there are only 6 excommunications recorded, for example, giving the lie to a common misperception that all the kirk ever seemed to do was to chuck folk out - rather, it was a case of the kirk doing everything it could to try to keep folk in.
Context matters.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Perp and Flick: when history and sermon collide

They kick off the start of the HCWR [History of Christianity as a World Religion] seminar series each year for 1st year undergraduates at New College. 
Having been both a student and, latterly, a tutor of said course they have a special place in my heart; 'they' being Perpetua and Felicity and the story of their martyrdom in the arena at Carthage somewhere between 203-211 CE. 
The first year I tutored this course, one of my lovely students presented her findings in the seminar complete with family holiday snaps - they'd been to the site of the martyrdom.  She also brought in some fantastic home baking - and yes, she got an 'A' :)  But I digress...
Why not go ahead and read The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions?  Fascinating, disturbing, odd, and heroic in turns - what is rather fabby about it is that here is an early document that may have been actually written by a woman; highly unusual and for that fact alone - if we believe the claims of authorship - a must-read.

Having recently been listening to complaints re. the pointlessness of doing a degree in the pursuit of training for ministry, it delighted the cockles of my aged history-loving heart to read a sermon in which Perp and Flick feature.
So, with a shout-out to the wonderful Martha I link to the sermon for your edification and delight.

No, really, I am not doing any thesis-diverting, nope, not at all... plus, I have just written a paper for a conference next week... and I've done lots of work today, honest...
*wonders if this last smacks rather too much of desperate attempt at convincing self?*

Monday, 8 October 2012

new approaches to mission?

In these days of pews emptying at alarming rates, and numbers dwindling due to so many other more exciting options on offer, perhaps a different approach is called for to rekindle interest in the kirk. 
Look no further...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

musing on Mark 9:38-50: wagon circling and circle widening

The gospel reading for tomorrow is Mark 9:38-50

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 
But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; 
for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. 
For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, 
it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; 
it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 
And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 
where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

For me, this week, the opening part of the gospel passage has really been knocking, especially:
'we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.'

In yet another of those instances when you have read a passage over the years a number of times, a new chink of light appears.  I find myself asking the question: 'hang on, what on earth is going on here?'

The disciples come upon a person who is doing something good in Jesus' name... and their instant reaction is to be very cross indeed. 
Who is this person?  Not one of us.
And because this person is not following them, not in their little group, they try to stop him from doing what he'd been doing... which was doing good in Jesus' name.
They stop him rather than encourage him;
they stop him rather than finding him an encouragement - being delighted that others outwith their group are actually getting it:
Jesus' message to love God and to love neighbour, in word and deed.
Again, what on earth is going on here?

Having been raised on a diet of Westerns when growing up, the image coming to mind is that iconic picture of covered wagons drawing themselves in a circle when under attack: drawing the circle small and defending the group.
But the gospel passage is not about being attacked.
It is about someone outside the group seeing, or having heard about, what Jesus has done, and going out and trying to do likewise.
A person outwith the group who appears to be thinking that what Jesus has been doing is a Jolly Good Thing.
Perhaps an alternate take on the disciples' attitude could be that they were concerned the person casting out demons - or dealing with mental health issues, or whatever this situation was about - is trying to set himself up as a messiah figure.
But this comes unstuck: the person would be invoking his own name. 
Here again, whoever this person was who happened to be going about doing good, the disciples state that it was done in Jesus' name. 
And so, perhaps at the heart of the problem, is identity and belonging... and a little matter of the pride of exclusivity:
are the group that follow Jesus. 

The gospel passages over the last couple of weeks have featured:
disputes and jostling for best place in the Jesus gang,
reminders about leadership not being about greatness but about humility and service,
calls to the disciples about looking after the ones who are on the edges, whose voices go unheard, who are invisible.
And here, in this passage, the disciples have gone out to do deeds in Jesus' name and have found someone else doing the same. 
Is there a fear about loss of privilege?
If any old random can do deeds in Jesus' name, will the disciples lose their place in the queue?

In stopping the unknown man from doing deeds in Jesus' name, the disciples exhibit behaviour that we, in the church, have also had a tendency towards historically. From the time of the disciples and continuing down through the ages we have effectively circled our wagons, we've fenced the table and actively put stumbling blocks in front of those who may have been inclined to do good.  On occasion, like the disciples, we have been quite caught up in the 'they don't belong', 'they're not in our group', so much so that we have been utterly blind to everything else, including the good that has been done by those who are not in our gang.
Perhaps especially the good: are we tacitly asserting that folk who are not like us are not really capable of being and doing good?
So some questions I am musing on:
How do we - how do I - stop folk from following?
What stumbling blocks do we/ I put in the way of others?
I find it interesting, and hadn't quite picked up on it before [slow to learn, that's me] that the disciples are not even focused upon the fact that whoever this person happens to be, they are doing good things: in and of itself, that is a thing to be praised.  So, how do we, how do I, actively be an encourager not a discourager?  How do we, how do I, see the good and praise that, rather than being worried about losing a place in the queue?
And further, to be awed and inspired rather than sniffy...
Instead of stopping, or discouraging folk, what ways can we find to encourage folk to be all that they can be and more? 

What are our/my motivations for following Jesus and doing deeds in his name?  It is better to reflect on that perhaps, than use the distraction technique of pointing to others... a little self-examination perhaps brings the perspective of humility.
And does the pointing of fingers and getting huffy about who is doing what get in the way of our own active service to our neighbour?  Does spending time arguing about our own place in the queue stop us from giving someone that real or metaphorical glass of water?

How do we break that very human trait of wanting to draw the wagons around in a circle and not let folk in?
And, following, how do we learn to draw the circle in a way that expresses the wide love of God?  And includes, like the cartoon at the top of the post expresses so beautifully, everybody?

Meanwhile, on a practical 'giving a cup of water' front, might I recommend the work of Wateraid...!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

oh Lord, it's hard to be humble...

I have been pondering the texts for today.  The OT text highlights the impossible ideal of the capable wife.  An 'interesting' one to think on for preaching - where to go with that, I wonder!?   
However, what has caught my attention is the combination of the gospel passage and epistle.  Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Capernaum.  As they walk he tells them of his coming suffering and death.  Later, in Capernaum, Jesus quizzes the disciples on the content of their subsequent conversation.  You can almost hear the awkward shuffling of feet in the embarrassed silence that ensues - one of those classic 'tumbleweed' moments.  Given what follows, somebody must have finally 'fessed up: we, as readers discover the topic was a discussion on who was the greatest, of jockeying for position, of pecking order and power.
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
A child is brought into their midst and a lesson is given:
notice the overlooked, the least, the powerless - and welcome them....

And then the epistle... 'the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy'... and 'Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you'.
'yield', 'submit', avoid partiality - the privileging of the prominent/ the powerful over the unimportant/ the powerless...

At various stages through the week, the word 'humility' has been quietly rolling about my inner landscape, particularly in connection with ministry.  I have mused upon ego and arrogance, power and privilege, have thought about service and self-importance.
What is it to be humble?
And what is it to be humble when you can't keep your head below the parapet due to being in a position of leadership?
As I've thought about this during the week, I decided to do a wee bit of 'googling' - combining words like 'christian service' 'humility' and such-like... I kept hitting sites talking about 'servant leadership'.  It is a phrase that has often bemused me.  Whilst it is a very sincere and deliberately intended oxymoron, meant to make one stop and go 'ah', the phrase works on another, perhaps unintended level.  In my own mind, that there needs to be the word 'leadership' at all in there makes me smile.
Truly, it is hard to let go of the ego, even when trying to talk about a life lived in loving service. 
Indeed, oh Lord, it's hard to be humble...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

ministry skillz, innit?

On a discussion board somewhere in cyberspace a question was asked concerning five particular, possibly useless, skills you bring to ministry.  My offering below:

1/ liturgical/ theological potential I can discuss in detail, and with delight, the development of 6-8th c monastic laws concerning the 'ejecting' of the host post communion; I will one day write the definitive paper on this entitled 'Jesus is everywhere', or, 'I can't believe it's not Jesus'

2/ liturgical/ theological potential If you want to know anything about liturgies for corporate Protestant fasting - y'know, on those occasions when storms hit, plague strikes, or you have an outbreak of pesky witches - then I can rustle up something appropriate.

3/ working within a large institution/ team work potential I am a dab hand at cussing in mid-Scots [c.16thc]

4/ spreading cheerfulness through community singing factor My secret substandard-power: the ability to turn life into a musical at any point in a conversation. My life does indeed go on in endless song...

5/ pastoral care potential I have a deep understanding of the power of the pastoral elbow, and can, when pastorally elbowing simultaneously tilt my head to the side.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

the shark that bit: a dubious metaphor for change

So, there you are, minding your own business, going about your everyday life.  Seeing something that catches your interest, you wander on over to have a closer look.  Suddenly your world is turned upside down and you find yourself being dragged unwillingly to somewhere unknown: everything you've known has changed.  Life in the way you've understood it has been utterly transformed.  Finding yourself in a strange, hostile environment, being pulled and poked at and prodded, wondering where you are and how you ended up here, you're quite naturally disconcerted, very probably frightened, and really rather a tad upset about your situation.
Naturally, you lash out.

No, this is not a reaction to a change of hymn book, or the ripping out of pews, or of congregations being blended to form a united charge.... Although it could be.  It's the story of one poor shark - who I have decided to name 'Bruce' - up in the Hebrides doing what sharks do: swimming about, sizing up the occasional seal for lunch, just getting on with his life aquatic.  Out of nowhere, a fisherman decides he's going to catch and tag this shark.  Which is all very well, but I am left somewhat bemused by the fact that the fisherman is taken by surprise at the shark's reaction.

Pondering this, I wonder about the story as a metaphor for change in the church....
In light of the way in which society has so rapidly changed over the last several decades, and given the way in which the institutional church has progressively moved from a more prominent place to the margins, the training of those called to be ministers has had to change.  We are exposed to new ways of being and doing church as well as considering the traditional patterns of ministry.  Filled with lots of new ideas, combined with the hope of somehow making a difference, [although, sometimes the way we make a difference is not in the way we actually anticipate - scary thought] we finish our training and then head off to unsuspecting parishes.

Some of these parishes are very up to the minute, au fait with this or that latest thing, looking outwards, are aware and of a mind that things might need to change.  But mostly, I suspect, parishes are just getting on with their way of doing things in the way they always have done, in the way most groups of humans, whoever and wherever they are, have done: people living their lives and used to a routine.  We shiny bright new ministers then come in and, a little like the fisherman in the above story, bring with us the capacity to upturn everything.

Moral of the story for me?
It is a useful and salutary thought to remind oneself that ministers are not indispensable and that ministers come and ministers go; the stability or sense of permanence is the congregation who have had a history prior to your arrival and will have a future that will not have you in it at some point.
Concerning change: sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can see that changes are needed, but sometimes we can get caught up with change that underneath may be just for change-sake - or because we ourselves are just slightly bored.  How then do we step back and discern that which is appropriate and inappropriate when it comes to change?  And how do we prepare and not be too surprised by the inevitable reactions that come with change?
I am writing a rather big note to self on parish life and change:
learn the story/stories of the community that you care for;
go gently;
be patient;
don't be dismissive of groups of people;
be mindful of fear and loss - and that this is both writ in the large and in the small;
find the equivalent of steel-capped boots and don't be too surprised when you occasionally get bitten... :)  

Monday, 27 August 2012

the [un]healthy cult of youth and the old church welcome chestnut

It's an expressed wish, a  catch-phrase, a mantra.
It's a cry of the heart, no more than lip-service, and everything in-between.
It's missional, a sticking-plaster, and perhaps oddly vampiric.
It's a gaping hole, the missing link, the holy grail.
It features on most parish profiles as a need, is ever-present at General Assembly, and if we don't have 'it', we are warned by the sayers of doom that will shuffle into oblivion.

'It' being all wrapped up in the ubiquitous
'we want more children and young people in church'.
Do we?
And what do we plan to 'do' with them?
Have we asked them?
Do we consult this longed for target group when we imagine and prepare fabulous programmes?  [to be fair, sometimes, yes]
Do we mutter darkly about them and their 'priorities' and 'lack of commitment' in our disappointment when they don't eagerly come rushing along to participate?
'They should come!'
'We like to have them in the church'
Are they trophies?
'We like to see them, them'
Hmmm, but not hear them, not be distracted if they are moving about 'more than is really quite acceptable'
Are we actually prepared to welcome them and accommodate ourselves to their needs, I wonder, even if that means the way liturgy is structured, or furniture and equipment might need to be changed?  
Given the prevalence of 'you're in my pew' horror stories when it comes to visitors who are adults, are we prepared to make any type of accommodation to those who are 'not actually us'?
How do we go about being even a little tiny bit more better at just welcoming folk into the kirk should they dare to venture across what can be a daunting threshold?

I do not deny that in various pockets of the wider church that it would appear that the church has a dearth of children and youth.  But I wonder why we are so fixated on this particular age group?
They are not the only generation missing.
Where are the 20 and 30-somethings?
Or folk in their 40's and even 50's?
We are missing several generations - children, and those of parent and grandparent age.

I am not saying we shouldn't want to have children and young people in church; I'm puzzled over why we are focusing upon just them almost to the exclusion of every other generation?
Occasionally, I wonder if it is about energy, and conversely, about tiredness.
Underneath the expressed wish, is there a desire to hand over the ever-increasing, ever-exhausting burden of looking after the fabric of a building which can become the all-consuming focus of a congregation?
Are we imprisoned by buildings which are called 'church', and yet, are merely stone and mortar? 

Perhaps a little missional balance and re-prioritising is in order.
I am not sure I know what the solution is; I do know, however, I never felt freer and more 'church' in the flesh and bone manner as when I was working within a congregation that wasn't shackled by the constraints of a building and which met in the local high school.

This is not a rant.  I am just trying to work some thoughts out in my small, tired brain concerning approaches to mission.  We do need to go beyond the plaintive 'we need children and young people' however and work out how to engage with that great diverse huge bunch of humanity beyond the kirk doors... oh, and while we're at it, might we also stop fixating about who falls in love with whom?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

swimming across the Tiber

View from the balcony, Apostolic Palace, the Vatican
Drookit student, balcony of Apostolic Palace, Vatican

And so I am back from a whirlwind trip to Rome.  It shall take some time to process, and the sheer number of sights and sounds have left me somewhat stunned into silence.

Some brief thoughts:
The sheer scale...
of buildings was dizzying - from the Colosseum, the Victor Emmanuel monument, St Paul's outside the walls, St John Lateran Basilica, and St Peter's - humans reduced to tiny ants scrabbling around their foundations.  Within the Vatican, the uncountable number of paintings and frescoes, statues and tapestries, gold, marble, and lapus lazuli, was almost impossible to comprehend.  Rooms filled with Raphaels and Michaelangelos, long corridors of maps drawn up in the 1580's.... The scale of history down through the ages as names popped out from long-forgotten - and currently opened on the desk - history books. 

The warmth... beyond the heat and humidity of the August sun beating down upon us, the warmth of hospitality of the folk at the Irish College where we stayed, and the delightful humour and wisdom of the rector, Father Ciaran. The cheerful enthusiasm of Monsignor Leo happily showing us around behind the scenes at the Vatican as we dripped on his marble floors on Monday evening, after being utterly drenched in a sudden storm.

Surreal and special moments...

Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel
standing quietly dripping from the rainfall, watching the play of late afternoon/ early evening light upon the frescoes in a hushed and empty Sistine Chapel, the Monsignor telling us the story of its creation...a complete privilege and a rare treat.

Catacomb communion
a wee while later, standing on the upper balcony of the Apostolic Palace, looking across to the roof-top statues of St Peter's Basilica, grinning with sheer joy in the midst of a sun-shower and wringing out my sodden shirt...

a couple of days on, walking along the via Appia Antica to the catacombs and then all of us having communion in the chapel in the catacomb of San Sebastian...

Still processing, but by golly, it was really rather marvellous... :)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

going to grace-land, but not in Memphis, Tennessee..

What is it to live a grace-filled life?  Does demonstrating grace equate to being a doormat?  How do you balance gracious loving-kindness with the prophetic challenging voice crying out in the face of injustice? 

Perhaps it begins with language: as humans, we trade in words.  Language - the use, misuse, abuse, and care of - is important.  A few words poorly chosen can lead to war.  Words carefully selected can capture a moment and hold it up for eternity.  There are famous last words - 'they couldn't shoot an elephant at this dist...' - forgotten, unheard words, and words conveyed more by gesture than by sound.

Words are important: they build up, they break down.  Words warn of danger, ward off evil, include, exclude, hold the warmth of welcome.  Finely honed words in the poet-craftsman's hands can reach the heights and depths and breadths of the human heart, have the capacity to lift us out of our cares and woes and, perhaps ironically, leave us in speechless wonder.  Words woven together tell of lived experience, creating a story from our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows.  Words underscore identity, belonging, where we have come from, where we are, where we hope to be, and who accompanies us on our way.  Words are amazing, terrible, beautiful.  They should come with a warning: 'danger! handle with care!'  

In light of the sheer power of words, how then do we handle them with care when engaged in discussions that evoke strong opinions, discussions that light the blue touch paper of passionate debate?  Where does grace come into our conversations?  Perhaps the topic of words is a well-worn theme of mine and yet, I continue to ponder the ever-increasing use of polemic in on-going debates in the kirk.  It is too easy to fashion words into pointing fingers of accusation; too easy to criticise and condemn; too easy to be embroiled in dehumanising, not re-humanising discourses; too easy to employ words that grate, not words of grace.

I've been pondering a pic a friend had 'liked' on facebook - I happily agreed with the sentiments expressed in the picture, but the tag-line [not placed by said friend] troubled me.  It was along the lines of let's stick it in the eye of 'homophobic bigots'.  While I agree that there are people who both face prejudice and are prejudiced, I find myself in an odd dilemma.  My problem is with the use of language to point and shoot, choosing language that dehumanises, language that harks back to the name-calling of the playground.  Using language in this way does nothing to progress dialogue, nor does it add anything useful, merely further polarises viewpoints.   The dilemma, is therefore objecting to folk utilising polemic who are, technically, standing on the same side of the fence as I happen to be, who are, in effect, attempting to try and express solidarity with me.  And even then, I dislike the language of 'fences' and 'sides', but there it is.

Let's not play a tit-for-tat game, rather, let's try for some civilised discourse, regardless of what language other people might choose to use.   Just because someone said 'xyz vitriol' does not mean it is fine and dandy to respond in like kind.  Here, I feel, is the problem of being so caught up in ideology that the person behind the 'issue' is lost to sight.  Reprehensible words that jar and shatter are flung about and the hurt and damage caused by this is too costly.  In this, I am as wary as liberal fundamentalism as I am of right-wing fundamentalism as ideologies - and no, 'liberal fundamentalism' is no longer an oxymoron. So, what is the way to words of grace?

I am not sure, and I can't speak for everyone - that would be impossible and also a tad arrogant!  So, then, how do I, in my small corner, attempt in action and in word, to work towards a lived grace?  One thing I do know is that when faced with being called 'an abomination', I am still called to love the one who calls me that. I don't have to accept the label, I don't have to remain silent. I can challenge, but to challenge does not mean wound, harm, destroy the one who tries to wound.  This should never be some war of attrition, nor should the language of 'winning' and 'losing' have any place in the discourse.  The choice then, is to find a way of engaging in a way that builds up and doesn't tear down, that doesn't return hate with hate. It does not mean becoming a doormat.

It is very difficult, this business of trying to live in grace, but when the rubber hits the road, I destroy and dehumanise myself if I respond in a way that dehumanises and destroys others.  Perhaps the attempt to live in grace, by action and in word, not only challenges myself to be the best that I can be, but it might, in and of itself, be a challenge to others.  Hmmm, 'physician, heal thyself' comes to mind, as does the very old song 'let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.'

Saturday, 28 July 2012

you're welcome...

From weddings to welcomes...
[I thought the following church welcome so excellent that I decided it should have it's own blog entry - apol's to those of you who've already seen it!]  

Came across this wonderful 'welcome' sign from Our Lady of Lourdes, Daytona Beach, Florida:

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

Yes, yes, and thrice yes.  Fantastically well said.

If anyone's reading this, what might your version of a 'welcome' be?  Just curious! :)
Aaaaaand back to the thesis...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

of weddings...

Some very, very good news.  And even better - a multi-party endorsement on this.... 'this' being the intention by the Scottish Government to allow same-gender marriage.

I thought Nicola Sturgeon's comments were very well measured, taking into account differences of opinion on the matter, as well as reassuring those amongst various religious communities who are against the move, that they will not be 'forced' to do this as they kept claiming.  The new legislation takes into account those religious groups who actually do want to perform weddings for same-gender folk as well as those who in conscience don't want to.  This works along the same lines as a minister's right to refuse - if they don't agree with it - to marry a divorced couple... and a minister's right to choose to marry a divorced couple.  I've been very puzzled by all the claims regarding 'being forced' into marrying LGBT couples.  Nevertheless: good news and jolly well done to the Scottish Government.
Sturgeon stated:

"The Scottish Government understands and respects the fact that there are very deeply held views in Scotland both for and against same sex marriage and, in coming to our decision, we have had to carefully consider a number of different factors.
"We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe that this is the right thing to do.
"We are also mindful of the fact that the leaders of all of the other parties represented in parliament support same sex marriage and that there is significant parliamentary support for legislation.
"However, we are also deeply committed to freedom of speech and religion. The concerns of those who do not favour same sex marriage require to be properly addressed. It is therefore right that the next step in this process will be to consult stakeholders on any provisions that may be required, in either statute or guidance, to protect these important principles and address specific concerns that have been expressed.
"The Scottish Government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws.
"However, our view is that to give certainty on protection for individual celebrants taking a different view from a religious body that does agree to conduct same sex marriages, an amendment will be required to the UK Equality Act. We will work with the UK Government to secure agreement to such an amendment before the formal introduction of a Bill to Parliament, with a view to it being in place before the legislation comes into force.
"A range of other concerns have also been expressed and we will take the opportunity to discuss with stakeholders what additional protections should be included, either in the legislation itself or in guidance, to address these.
"This will include consideration of any provisions that may be required to protect religious beliefs of teachers and parents in schools.
"We also intend to protect the current situation whereby the faith content of the curriculum in Catholic denominational schools is determined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.
"Scotland is by no means the first and will not be the last country to legalise same sex marriage. However, as we proceed towards legislation, our overriding concern will be to respect the variety of views that exist on this issue and do whatever we can to address those concerns that have been expressed, while ensuring that Scotland lives up to its aspiration to be an equal and tolerant society."

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Thistle 'do'

Royal Archers stand guard in b'ground
Well, that was fun!!
'That' being in St Giles Cathedral this morning for the installation of Prince William as a Knight of the Order of the Thistle.
order of service - green ink to match Thistle robes
Sheer happenstance a couple of weeks back meant that I ended up with a ticket to be in the Cathedral sitting in my best suit less than 15 feet away from the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne, and Prince William... and the assembled Order of the Thistle.
The industrial work gear being worn by the Order, Court of the Lord Lyon, and the Company of Royal Archers was utterly fab.

burgundy is apparently the colour of one's limo
Still grinning and finding it all rather tricky to concentrate on getting back to writing up the thesis... no photos during the event - as it would have been rather poor form to have done so during what was a service of worship ... but before the event, I took a photo from where I was sitting... chairs in foreground for the assembled Order, the two 'big' chairs for the Queen and the Duke of the right of the Queen sat Prince William -  yes, I really was 'that' close.

One's bit of paper from the protocol people to let one in for the Thistle do...

Monday, 2 July 2012

'man's' chief end...

Stumbled upon this pic. the other day and it just made me laugh out loud.  It is a somewhat different approach to the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism!
q1/ What is man's chief end?
answer/ Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

I often wonder why it appears that we seem to forget the 'enjoy' part: what is it about our inner workings that cause us to get caught up in the 'seriousness' bit of faith that we forget that 'silliness' is sometimes also okay.  And even in that sentence, I realise I put a qualifier word in when it comes to silliness - 'sometimes'.

I'm minded of a conversation around one of the tables in the Rainy Hall a couple of years ago.  We were discussing God, humour, and such like.  I remember observing that in some of the stories Jesus told, you could almost see a twinkle in the eye and a grin; that sometimes, because we are so used to the stories in the bible, we lose some of the impact and the effect the stories may have had on the early hearers.  I went so far as to say that I could imagine Jesus laughing out loud in certain situations.
A rather serious young woman, who had been frowning at most of the conversation suddenly spoke for the first time.  I found myself being utterly reprimanded:
'Jesus would never laugh!' she exclaimed, sternly rebuking me.
A caveat: I do not, in any way, want to cast aspersions on how this young woman chose to work through her faith - that is her own journey, and that is totally fine, and if it works for her that is all that matters.

Reflecting on my own faith dimension:
Perhaps I am a very bad example of a Christian - I think I probably am - but in the dark places I have occasionally found myself in, knowing I follow one who has the capacity for laughter and enjoyment, as well as having the full gamut of emotions, has been the very thing that has kept me hanging on in there. 
Sometimes, you have to laugh as part of engaging in enjoying God forever...well, I do. 

[blogging ever more infrequently as I write up the thesis...]

Saturday, 16 June 2012

castanets, cross-eyed bears, and kenosis...

Not everyone on the boat was impressed by Peter's spontaneous rendition of 'Hernando's Hideaway'...          

Stumbled upon the above cartoon, to which I've added a caption [other suggestions welcome!].  After the initial laugh, it got me to thinking about hearing; the way we hear things, or indeed, mishear them.  Cue here the ongoing gags concerning the Lord's Prayer and the child firmly convinced that God's name is 'Harold'... or the sense of compassion that occasionally wells up when singing about that poor cross-eyed bear named 'Gladly'.  It also made me ponder about our reactions to others when they appear to get it wrong - dismissive or accepting, deriding or assisting, and, back to an old theme, dehumanising or re-humanising?  Communication, like the old song, takes two baby, so how do we treat the other party in the exchange?

Teasing out this theme of listening and hearing: I love how the mind, when not quite hearing something, valiantly attempts to fill in the blanks; to link a thing together and arrange it into some kind of sense, no matter how odd.  There are those times when we genuinely do mishear, but there are also those times when our hearing/ comprehension instead projects what we want to hear, rather than the reality.  Who wouldn't rather break out the castanets and party, as opposed to cast the nets and get stuck into the hard slog of work, I wonder?  Breaking out the castanets, however, is perhaps not the most conducive way to effect real listening.  How do we learn to listen to the voice of God, and to the voices of others?

The act of listening, really concentrated listening, is kenotic; self-giving, and self-negating and allows the 'other' to be placed first, to shine, to tell their story, to share their wisdom and insights.  The process requires us to still our own inner noise, our own need to distract and bring the focus back to ourselves - to refrain from cutting the other's story short, to resist that temptation to butt in and, instead, to be quietly present. It is also incredibly exhausting; it is work and a slog at times, but it is also a rather extraordinary gift we can give to people.

Personally, I continue to work out how to listen in this kenotic sense.  I continue to work at how to get the right balance between enjoying conversation and banter, and knowing when to move into the quietness of hearing what is really being said...   of learning how to make room in the midst of my own need for the noise of self-affirmation and assurance of existence, and go beyond the surface into the still, hushed places.  The act of moving beyond mere hearing works relationally both vertically and horizontally whether listening for the voice of God, or listening for the voice of friend, neighbour, or stranger.  Perhaps the act of practising listening is another way in which to practice putting on love; an act of quiet, self-giving, often unseen inclusion in a noisy world of dissonant, competing voices too busy talking to really hear each other?

In the end - and beginning - perhaps the very heart of ministry centres upon listening.  In response, listening informs the care of others - this by many means: the proclamation of the word, teaching, vision, the administration of the sacraments, the ever-present regimen of meetings, and the nuts and bolts and administration of a parish.  To respond from a place of having listened attentively might just avert some, although not all, painful and unnecessary disasters....

Saturday, 9 June 2012

It's good to talk... Colloquium 2012: women, language, and worship...

'Colloquium' - can be defined as 'a gathering or assembly for discussion' and indeed, that is what happened at our event yesterday afternoon. Good papers, stimulating discussions, stories shared: such was Colloquium 2012. Perhaps the award for best word could be given to one of our panellists, Margaret Forrester, who noted she was moving into her 'anecdotage' as she talked of experiences from her early days in ministry. Our conversations were broadened out wonderfully by the attendance of folk from other faith traditions: certainly both the Catholic Church, Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of England were represented.

The papers presented by Anne Logan, Finlay Macdonald, and Elizabeth Ursic were well received, and were also recorded. Both a podcast of these papers, as well as written copy will be posted in the near future on a separate page.

Why 'Colloquium 2012' all of a sudden? The planning group: Elizabeth Ursic, Fran Henderson, and Nikki Macdonald are already wondering about the possibility of another event about this time next year, and pondering themes: and so, 'Colloquium 2013' is already being discussed. Watch this blog for further updates as we ponder how to keep this conversation going.... In the meantime, the blog entries for 'Colloquium 2012' have been gathered and moved across to the 'archive' page in order to refresh the conversation.

Many thanks to all who came and joined in the conversation yesterday: it's good to talk.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Friday Five... Inspirations

Ahhh, RevGals Friday Five... I have not played for a looooong time... so, here goes:

Very quickly;  this week

1. What has encouraged you?
Hmmm, I confess I was rather gobsmacked by a profusion of gracious words from someone the other night at our RevGals W.E.E. 1 gathering.  I can't quite recall correctly, but in amongst some incredibly lovely encouraging stuff, said person finished with 'You rock.  Thank you for letting me dance amongst the constellation of all your friends'.  What a lovely image... and what a lovely way of reminding me of just how incredibly fortunate I am with those folk who I am privileged to call friends. 

2. What has inspired you?
Our General Assembly, which came to a close this afternoon after a week of merry meetings in New College.  The Moderator had a lightness of touch, a sense of fun, and the overall atmosphere was gentler than it has been for a while: folks quietly got on and did the business of the church cheerfully.  It is already being called the 'alleluia' Assembly.  What inspired me...was that this Assembly reminded me that we can come together as a church and be united in a common cause...

3. What has challenged you?
I am pondering words, and especially the power of words.  I am challenging myself to be more gracious in the way I engage with folk - it is too easy to be critical or cynical or even self-aggrandise at the expense of others.  So, positive, gracious words: to make more use of them please!!!

4. What has made you smile?
The sun!!!! It has clawed its way out from behind the dreich and has been warming me right through to the bones this week - happiness.  Our RevGals gathering on Wednesday brought lots of laughter and smiles.  Catching up with old pals who were gathered for the General Assembly: lots of cups of tea and happy blethers.  Hugs - lots of them - always a guaranteed smile-bringer :D

5. What has brought a lump to your throat or a tear to you eye in a good way?

Big deep conversation with a pal very early on in the week.  Again, a reminder of how blessed I am with very, very good friends.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

W.E.E. 1

Over the years, I have lurked, and latterly been a part of a wonderful, nourishing, and really rather fabulous online community of women [and friends of women] involved in ministry called revgalblogpals. Every year, for the last five now, the RevGals have organised an event known as B.E. [insert number of year here!] A Big Event, generally on a cruise ship, generally with a guest speaker/ facilitator: a mix of study trip, fun, community, building up of friendships.  Alas, I have never been to one - they look fantastic - but there is a growing contingent of women based in Scotland....  Knowing several Scottish-based RevGals might be at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland this year, a small plan formed in my mind: why not try to organise a wee event... indeed, why not have W.E.E. 1?  Wee Event Ecosse 1, to be precise.  And so, sending out a call via the RevGal facebook page, we began to get ourselves organised.
Loved how one of our American RevGals came up with the restaurant we decided upon....
We Scottish-based RevGals and pals of RevGals duly convened at the Mussel Inn last night, for food, merriment, and more wine than is suggested by the pic above.  What followed was a gentle, funny, and really lovely evening meeting friends old and new, the having of some good blethers, laughter, shared stories - some good, some bad, one downright ugly - and overall just a super sense of mutual support and solidarity [if that is not too cheesy!].
Who knows... we may even organise ourselves and have another!!
W.E.E. 2 anyone?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Colloquium: Women, Language, and Worship in the Church of Scotland

Am currently distracted from my thesis - again - due to helping organise a conference:
Colloquium: Women, Language, and Worship in the Church of Scotland.

Set for the afternoon of June 7, it is beginning to shape up well.
Some good folk presenting papers in the first half of the conference:
Anne Logan, Finlay Macdonald, and Elizabeth Ursic.
This followed by a break-out time for small group discussion, and then discussion by panellists representing different generations of women in ordained ministry in the Church of Scotland.

I've set up both facebook and blog pages - do go visit for further details.
And maybe see you at the conference :)
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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Thursday, 3 May 2012

tales of a tea-lady...

At some point mid-semester, possibly week 6 or 7, the fortnightly gathering of the 'Jane gang' aka Early Modern 'T' [aka those of us wot have Prof Jane as wise and illustrious supervisor] met.  Amongst other topics, the matter of getting organised and having some seminars was raised.  In one of those moments when you hear words coming out of your mouth while simultaneously hearing yourself inwardly shouting 'argh, shut up, just SHUT UP, argh', I heard myself making the suggestion of killing two birds with one stone and hosting a day conference for postgrads of the ecclesiastical history variety [the other bird being killed concerned an annual weekend residential conference for postgrads from the four ancient universities of Scotland, and held in Kinnoul.  This had had been running for years but had latterly quietly died... cue lots of conversations about different formats, how that might work, where, when, etc. but nothing that had quite managed to emerge].
The suggestion made, and taken up, a committee of four of us somehow put it all together, and on Tuesday 2nd 'The History of Christianity' conference was held at New College with a wide range of papers from patristics right through to the present, with said papers presented by postgrads not only from Scotland, but also from further afield.  A late withdrawal from a presenter on Thursday evening saw me taking a deep breath, consulting with supervisor, then hurriedly putting a paper together.  Not quite what I'd planned, as I had put myself down to be tea-lady and general dogsbody; rather a busy day. 
We were really pleased with the response and there was a good positive vibe throughout the day.  The academics involved were pleased with it all and it looks like we may indeed have found a new way of providing what Kinnoul offered: - a friendly, non-threatening environment for postgrads to test their ideas amongst peers and with the encouragement of academics.
Looks like we may have brought about an annual conference.
Delighted with how well it was received.

One particularly nice cherry on top of the week was being introduced to Diarmaid MacCulloch at a 'do' held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh last night - this as an adjunct to the Gifford Lectures, at which DM is the guest speaker this year [link will take you to the filmed lectures].

Wild fortnight, and utterly shattered, but in a good way.  :D
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Sunday, 22 April 2012

'broiled' fish?

There are days when even my peculiar mind surprises me....
This morning in kirk as the Gospel was being read [Luke 24: 36-48] the following verse managed to gently distract me from higher thoughts:
42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
'Broiled fish', I wondered.
What on earth is 'broiled' fish?
I'd heard the term for years - every time that particular reading had come around the lectionary cycle once again - and it struck me that I actually hadn't a clue what it meant.
And so my tiny mind began to play around with cookery terminology, racking brain to remind self of what broiling involved.
The sermon drifted in and out of my times, I nodded in agreement with points made, such as our peculiar church language and how, outwith the kirk, folk would probably scratch their heads wondering what such and such a term meant. I confess, I immediately thought of the term 'intimations' - not as potentially exciting or lurid as might at first seem.  But then my thoughts snaked back to the wretched word 'broiled', with no defining joy in sight.  It's not as if I had never seen the word before, but today, for some bizarre reason, it just stood out and vexed my wee mind.
Now at home, I have just looked it up.
Apparently it's what our American friends over the Pond mean by grilling.
So... Jesus ate a piece of grilled fish.
Further Messianic/scriptural validation for barbecues, thought I.
And so, with that scintillatingly deep spiritual insight, my mind is at rest once more.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Of Cumbrae, conferences, and other such things...

A lovely time last week, which saw me at a worship conference at the Cathedral of the Isles on the Isle of Cumbrae.  This was put on as a pilot by Ministries Council as they explore reshaping the conference component of our training.  The conference itself was led in very chilled out fashion by John Bell - who told us stories, shared his insights and experiences, and got us all thinking and talking.  Unlike the usual conference frenzy of sessions and activities, with hosts of speakers on all manner of subjects, this smaller and more sharply defined conference gave time and space to reflect and be, as well as do.  I am still chewing on all the food for thought provided, but certainly think that as a way forward for how we learn in our time of training, this really worked very, very well.  It also helped that the setting was so scenic and that folk were able to go off and ponder quietly about the island, regroup, and then come back for more. 
In the meantime, I am once again ensconced in the halls of New College, working my way through kirk session records, knee-deep in 16th c. fornication, adultery, and drunkenness...and so I plough on with the thesis of doooom.