Sunday, 29 December 2013

'there are children here somewhere, I can smell them'

'A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, 
Rachel weeping for her children; 
she refused to be consoled, for they are no more.' Mt 2:18

The Sunday immediately following Christmas is, if following the Revised Common Lectionary at least, a somewhat delicate and tricky matter.  Unless opting for a service of Lessons and Carols [good call for the exhausted preacher - and what we did at Parish by the Sea] we move from the hope of the Christ child to the horror of Holy Innocents.  It's a time when we remember Herod's decree to slaughter all male children under two years of age; this upon hearing of the birth of a new King of the Jews. 

I got to wondering about this particular 'terrible text' of the bible after reading a statement by a friend on facebook about the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Quite frankly, I really struggled with the content - or, perhaps, more correctly, where that content took me in my own thoughts through no actual fault of my friend.  Perhaps, given the subject matter, struggle is the only appropriate response.  The trigger prompting my move beyond what friend has posted was something along the lines of remembering 'all such children for whom their Creator was jealous, who are now at home with Him...'  

Initially, it was the word 'jealous'; an odd word to use and yet utterly Old Testament biblical.  But it set me off thinking about responses by people in cases where a child, or children, die; of comments made to help console friends or strangers in their grief:          

'God must have needed another angel in heaven'
'God looked at all the wee ones in the world and chose yours'

or the dire poem that contains the following:

'Perhaps God tires of calling the aged to his fold,
So he picks a rosebud, before it can grow old.
God knows how much we need them, and so he takes but few
To make the land of Heaven more beautiful to view.'
          etc. etc. etc.

Beyond a theology concerning angels - angelology, if you will - and of what Christians believe happens when they die, which is not to be transformed into an angel but rather, the resurrection of the body [we don't change species / I'm thinking here of the Apostles Creed], I wonder at this understanding of a God who is not unlike a divine version of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: 'there are children here somewhere, I can smell them.'  

How do we balance theological understandings concerning our image of God and our beliefs around what happens when we die with providing a helpful and appropriate pastoral response to those who are in the midst of grieving the loss of a child?  Personally, God walking with folk in the place of pain is more comfort to me than the thought that God decided he needed another wee soul in heaven to brighten it up [what kind of cruel and capricious God does that?]...some folk, on the other hand, apparently derive comfort from this [here perhaps seeing God's particular care and a way to make meaning out of death].  How best to minister to folk who hold a viewpoint that may be very much at odds with one's own?  Lots to chew on - this is only the beginning of a conversation.  I think I wanted to post while it was still fresh!

Monday, 23 December 2013

A prayer: For those who are not busy, but wish they were

There are so many posts, as is totally right and as should be at this time of year for many, about stress and busyness and the near-meltdown that the run-up to Christmas can bring.  Not all are caught up in the maelstrom and the seeming madness, however.  Sometimes it feels that there is an enforced conspiracy of silence - of nodding politely at others' comments about how busy they are, how many will come, what preparations are left to provide the 'perfect' day...letting them talk and fobbing off 'what are you doing?'
In the midst of it all, in visits with those who are grieving, and those who are dying, those who are single, and those who have no family... a prayer:

For those who are not busy, but wish they were;
For those who wish they had someone to buy and wrap presents for, but do not;
For those who miss the hospitality of preparing a banquet for others to share;
For those who feel sidelined by this coming Christmas Day
as they hear the ceaseless message: 'it's all about the children'...
Remind us:
Lord, in the quiet spaces you are everpresent;
Lord, in the lonely places, you are our gift and our comfort;
That it is you, Lord, who prepares a banquet where all can share.
And on this coming day, in both busyness and quiet,
remind us once more:
It is all about the Child -
Immanuel - God with us.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

the 'Addams' Advent 3...or 2

I awoke this morning, having subconsciously processed the gospel texts for both last and this coming Sunday into the beginnings of a most annoying ear-worm.
Sunday will be Advent 3, and the gospel text will feature our fierce friend Johnny the Baptist.
But wait.  Didn't we have him last week?
Well yes.
Think of this week's gospel text as the sequel - John in prison going 'ahhh, hang on...'
Given I'm preaching this week, it's clear the boy has been on my mind.
Oh, yes, the ear-worm:
think of the tune to 'The Addams Family' ...
fingers clicking?
Then I'll begin.

He's scary and he's hairy,
The second cuz of Mary...
and there it stayed, until I noted said ear-worm on the RevGals facebook page.
In a glorious sisterly collaboration with CindiMartha, Annabel, and a cast of others interjecting with amusing and bemused comments... herewith 'The Addams Advent 3' [well mostly 2, but who's counting?]

da da da dah *click click*
da da da dah *click click*
da da da dah
da da da dah
da da da dah *click click*  etc!

He's scary and he's hairy,
The second cuz of Mary,
He's not too fond of dairy -
Our beloved Johnny B...

He doesn't have much money:
He's eating bugs and honey
He probably smells funny -
Our beloved Johnny B...

He's into independence
He's calling for repentance
I can't write one more sentence...
On beloved Johnny B...

The Pharisees will go up,
The Sadducees will show up,
And at them he'll blow up -
Our beloved Johnny B...

[bring on the vipers...!!]

The vipers are so creepy
They always make me weepy:
They scare me in my sleepy
When preached by Johnny B...

[alternative vipers!!]

Our Johnny, getting hyper
cries 'Repent, you brood of vipers!'
The Pharisees need diapers -
He's quite scary, Johnny B.

When Jesus wants a dippin'
John B's wig will be a'flippin'
But J-man comes out drippin'
Bedunked by Johnny B...

Much later in his story
It's gonna get quite gory
But Jesus' words assure him:
He's God's beloved Johnny B.

Salome shakes a titty
She really is quite pretty.
Alas, she shows no pity
For poor old Johnny B.

When Herod is rewedded
Herodias is bedded,
And John B is beheaded
And that's the end of Advent 3

Postcript [or the 'but wait, there's more' bit]
There was a tangential 'Girl from Ipanema' comment made.  Taking up the challenge I wrote:

Tall and tanned, unstrung, lives roughly
the boy in camel hair's baptisin'
and when he dunks 'em, each person he's dunkin' goes 'ahhhh'...
What, I think, is clear from all of this nonsense is that I am truly no longer bowed down by the thesis...
the jury is out as to whether this is a good, or a bad, thing.
Also, after a very mixed day of good, but shattering visiting, some holy humour was just the tonic I needed.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

a prayer for Advent 2a: prophets' voices

The voices of the prophets cry out:
Straighten the paths!
A new king shall arise!’

The voices of the prophets cry out:
His reign will bring justice,
His reign will bring peace;
His reign will bring healing from hurt and harm.’

The voices of the prophets cry out:
Be washed clean!
The king is coming:
Great and mighty is he.’
...  ... ...
In this Advent season of waiting and preparation
help us to straighten the paths of our lives:
when we have wandered from your path,
when we have meandered down myriad highways and byways
and every way but your way,
forgive us and draw us back to you.

When we have ignored the voices of your prophets
When we have filled our lives with so much noise and distraction that we cannot hear your voice,
Forgive us and draw us back to you.

When we have turned a blind eye to justice
When we have fanned the flames of conflict
When we have chosen in whatever way, to hurt or to harm
Forgive us and draw us back to you:

In a moment of quiet reflection, we bring before you those stumbling blocks we put on the path that hinder our preparations 
as we await the coming of your Son, our King...
...   ...   ...
Sweep through the dark and dusty corners of our hearts,
Clear the corridors of our souls,
Cleanse us and cause us to rise up and rejoice;
To cry out with your prophets:
‘the King is coming:
Great and mighty is He!’

And now, gathered as your people, we pray again the prayer that Jesus taught us, praying: 
Our Father...   

Saturday, 30 November 2013

People get ready... a sermon for Advent 1 A

readings: Isaiah 2: 1-5, Ps 122, Matthew 24: 36-44
In the words of the old Curtis Mayfield song:
‘People get ready, there's a train a’comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
You don't need no ticket you just thank the lord.’

If last week was the ‘end’,
this week is the beginning:
The church year has come full circle and we start again with the season of Advent.
The word ‘advent’ means ‘the coming, or arrival, of something extremely important’ –
And, for the church,
that important something is a someone

The Advent season is a time of preparation and expectation as we ready ourselves once more to remember familiar stories:
of mothers and mangers,
shepherds and stars
and wandering, wondering wise men from the east.
They’re all there – in the near distance –
but before we recall those stories and remember Christ’s birth in Bethlehem
we have several weeks ahead of us to wait and to watch
and as we do so, to prepare... the song says: ‘people get ready’.

Our three bible texts this morning could each be summed up in three words:
And these help us to sum up ways in which we might use this season of Advent to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah talks of peace:
of weapons of war being reforged and reshaped –
into ploughshares and pruning hooks:
weapons turned from gathering in a harvest of blood,
transformed into tools used
to gather in a harvest sustaining life. 
The text tells us of disputes being settled and of a kingdom where there will be no more war...
The kingdom described here is a kingdom of peace
And, as we look ahead to a few week’s time,
We understand that this kingdom of peace is brought in by Jesus, our prince of peace
who reconciles us to God and to one another;
Who calls us his brothers and sisters – his friends.
So then, we’re called to be a community of peace – and as we prepare for Christ’s coming,
we symbolise reconciliation,
being at peace with God and one another,
in the bread and in the wine that we’ll share together shortly.

In the peaceful, peaceable kingdom, free from the ravages of and distractions of war, restoration can happen –
The psalmist talks of Jerusalem as a city restored, in beautiful order and harmony –
this theme of creating orderliness out of chaos, would be something that the reformer, John Calvin would pick up on:
for him, orderliness was next to godliness –
and you can hear his influence in the oft-used phrase in the Kirk of ‘doing things decently, and in good order’.
But back to the psalmist!
With restoration comes the chance to flourish and prosper –
to bring about new life because there’s the peace and the safety to do so.
As we prepare for Christ’s coming,
we remember and act upon the knowledge that we are called to be a community of restoration –
creating places of sanctuary and safety
building up and encouraging ourselves and our neighbours
enabling, nurturing and nourishing –
and again,
that symbol of nourishing and restoring found at the table of the Lord,
as we  ourselves are nourished and restored in Christ.

And what of readiness?
Our reading from Matthew paints a picture of the end of all time, when Christ will come again:
And here, almost in the best tradition of Dr Who, time seems to be a strange blend of past, present, and future weaving back and forth together:
At the moment we’re looking ahead to the coming of Christ – the babe in the manger
And yet, our gospel reading also reminds us that we are also to look ahead to that final coming of Christ...
Time here is both about beginnings and endings.
Of Alpha and Omega
Of judgement and grace
and of the time when God, in Christ, will make all things new.
And this reading is less about trying to instil fear into us,
and much more about hope –
it reminds us that although we may not know the day or hour –
although we don’t have any control over time,
the God of all time is in control
and in that knowledge, we can breathe easy, relax, and wait in hopeful, joyful readiness.
And while the passage is full of the signs of the end, we’re not called to sit and count the days and hours
nor are we called to nervously jump at shadows:
we’re asked to trust –
and echoing the words of the Serenity Prayer,
to accept the things we cannot change.
What I find interesting here in the text is that Jesus himself seems to imply that even he does not know the day or the hour...
If Jesus can trust and accept and be hopeful, that’s our cue – all our hope is founded on God.

As we prepare for Christ’s coming
we are called to be a community of readiness:
and in that preparation, we are minded that the one who acts in the fulfilling of all history is also present now –
we are Christ’s hands and feet, his body here on earth
we are to keep awake to the signs of things to come
but also to the needs of others now.
One day, Jesus may appear suddenly and unexpectedly
but before that, he may appear in the queue at the food bank, or sleeping rough, as someone needing clothed, as someone sick or in prison.
The bread and the wine reminds us of time – this now and not yet in which we must be ready
in which we all come, as beggars to the table with our hopes and our needs.

Shortly, as the community of God’s people here in this place and at this time, we will look back and recall an upper room:
a meal shared with friends
of taking and breaking
and blessing and sharing:
a meal of kinship –
of reconciliation and peace
of restoration and nourishment
of readiness, and of the now and not yet...
A meal that has continued to take place for over
2 000 years
wherever the friends of Jesus have gathered
or are gathered
or indeed, will gather.
The meal we will share is a reminder of cost:
of life lost;
it is a reminder too, of promise:
of new life for all.

In story and bread and in wine we remember what God in Christ has done for humanity...
and in looking back,
in actively remembering through eating and drinking,
we are nourished and strengthened so that we are able to walk – walk in the light that the Lord gives us
and to prepare for his coming this Christmas, and at the end of all time.

People get ready, there's a train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board them
There's hope for all among those loved the most. 

[David Bartlett’s essay was most helpful with regard to providing some structure to the sermon around the notion of community – although we pondered differing communities!  As well, his thoughts on God and time gave me good food for thought and the occasional borrowed sentence.  See that great resource, Feasting on the Word, YrA, Vol. 1 pp20-25
And going into vaguely reflective practice mode: it mostly works but I realise that I've got bogged down in the 3rd part regarding 'readiness'- that it's not as sharp/ succinct as it could be.  Which is generally an indicator of not having quite finished working through it in my own mind.  Ah well, the tyranny of time...but the knowledge that it'll be worked through as I preach it anyway!]

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

the day of the Doctor(ate)

So, this is wot I did yesterday...
being doffed by Knoxy's breeks...
If Saturday evening was the 'the Day of the Doctor', Tuesday morning at the McEwan Hall was the day of the doctorate.  A marked lack of sonic screwdrivers on Tuesday, however there were plenty of red degree tubes

a rather large bottle of gin...
A rather excellent day indeed - even despite the rain!
a slightly damp doctor... :)

I continue to be amazed at the many kind words, good wishes, and encouragement - gosh, I am very, very blessed indeed.

Now, what to do with the enormous bottle of gin my Prof gave me, I wonder...?  :)

Saturday, 19 October 2013

is there a doctor in the house?

It ain't a pretty gown, but it *is* a doctoral gown, and given a happy viva experience on Thursday afternoon, I have earned the right to wear said gown.

The viva itself was, bizarrely, excellent fun and I enjoyed it immensely.  It also helped that when I walked into the room, both examiners had big smiles on their faces and commented that they'd enjoyed reading it - had to fight off the urge to go 'really?'  From the outset, then, the signs were good, and they were very skilled at ensuring I was relaxed.  An hour passed in a moment, and then I was told to daunder off while examiners conferred.  Walked out to my waiting supervisor and grinned and said 'it was actually fun!'  About five minutes later, we were both walking into the room, greetings and congratulations all round, and the inevitable corrections - albeit minor.  Ended up with 16 typos to fix; a request to move my pics and tables from the main body of the text into appendices [which made supervisor and self laugh - same conversation had been made last year and she had opted for main body of some, lose some]; change my chapter numbering system; and a couple of 'just check this, is it right?' [I have, they are - idiosyncratic session clerk from 1580's and an early 16th century confessional guide - which spells 'first' as 'fist'].  The work itself is all fine 'n dandy.
So.  There we go.  Corrections to do and submit, and a graduation to sort out.  After back to back to back degrees, and 9 years of study, Dr Nik is leaving the New College building...

Johnny Knox, you've done me proud.

I am still grinning like a loon :) 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Consider the communion

'Sandy the meerkat ponders philsophy and theology'
Having just come back from a training conference, one session of which featured reflections upon communion...the things they don't teach you whilst ministry-training.

A placement several years ago...

It was Holy Week.
A Maundy Thursday communion at 'Fishing Parish'
My supervisor and I had co-written a liturgy woven through with reflective story and silence.
Communion was to be distributed, after which, once the elders had brought back the plates bearing bread and the wine cup dispenser, I was to lead us off into a time of intecessory prayer.
All was going well.
The initial hustle and bustle and busyness of the day that folk had brought into worship with them gradually ebbed away;
a holy hush filled the worship space.
The elders began to come forward after distributing the bread and wine.
As I leant down from my chair to retrieve my notes...
I slipped.
An audible gasp from the body of the Kirk.
Falling heavily on my hand, I winced in pain, but remained silent as I picked myself up quickly from the floor.
As I began to go into shock, my voice wavered as I uttered the words in a small voice:
'lllet uus prrray...'
I saw the visible swelling of my hand;
found it nearly impossible to turn the pages in my notepad.
The wavering prayers finished,
the last hymn was sung.
At the door, the pain now almost unbearable with each handshake.
Back in the vestry - ice was seen to be needed.

Easter Sunday morning.
I arrived in the church hall, and saw three members of the choir giggling.
Seeing me, they suddenly naughty schoolkids who'd been caught by the bikesheds having a crafty fag.  [to my N. American friends - a sneaky cigarette!!]
I had a strong suspicion I knew what they had been giggling about.
I wandered over and, deciding to tease them, with the aid of a judiciously raised eyebrow I asked them if they might care to share the joke.
They guiltily confessed that indeed, they had been giggling about Thursday's mishap;
bu they hadn't meant to be mean.
I grinned - to their visible relief.
Of course it had been awful, but it was a ridiculous thing to have happened and I saw the funny side, etc. 
They gave an account of how they saw the whole thing happen.
'Well, one minute you were there behind the communion table...
and then suddenly, you disappeared...
and, well, we've never seen you move so quickly:
next minute all we saw was your wee head pop up from behind the table like...
like a...'
they stumbled to find the right word.
I looked at them, grinned and said:
'a meerkat?'
We all giggled.
They then did have the grace to ask how my poor mangled hand was.

Several weeks later, on my last Sunday of the placement, the choir called me over before worship.
'We wanted to say goodbye and to give you a wee present' said one - who had been involved in the Easter Sunday conversation. 
A slight awkwardness, sense of naughtiness, and fumbling for words.
'We know you have a good sense of humour, so we are hoping you take our present in the way it is intended...'
The card and present was duly handed over.
Lovely wishes on the card.
Grins all 'round when I opened the present to discover:
a plushy meerkat with my clan tartan scarf.

But tell me: why didn't the training to be a minister manual have an entry re. 'what to do in case of falling off seat at communion and spraining your hand'?  It would have made what I experienced just that little less traumatic...jus' sayin'.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Ministry: walking and talking and praising God

It is an ongoing process, this working through what it is, what it means, to minister with, and to, the people of God.
At the moment, I am back to that old metaphor of walking:
walking alongside,
walking with,
occasionally walking behind, cheering from the back as gifts are nurtured and nourished,
sometimes walking ahead, with head turned back, and hand beckoning in encouragement:
'C'mon, it'll be okay, this is a story that has a great ending, which is really a whole new beginning.  Don't be afraid.'

I am also back to a favourite word as well: 'story'.
As I walk in my probationer-minister's shoes, I ponder place and time as I minister here and now at 'Seaside Parish', and think about how both weave in and through the lives of the community of folk that I have grown to love and care for.
And as a student of history with a fondness for 'the story', I think of the many stories written into the life of this community, past, present, and future; stories that I have been told, stories being uncovered whilst listening in a living room and drinking tea, stories of hoped-for outcomes or of hope snatched away.
Gathered together, in this specific place, at this specific time, there are many stories held together by that one common story of an unexpected expected child, in a far-away land, at a far-away time, who grew in wisdom and grace, who used stories to point the way to a larger, deeper story...who was crucifed, died, was buried, and who rose again, and who calls us 'friend'.
We are a community of story, and of journey...
sometimes walking together
sometimes walking apart
occassionally walking rather shambolically
every so often walking in ways that surprise and astonish and delight
but always, always
walking in the light of God's loving faithfulness.

Perhaps then, to be a minister, is to acknowledge that this is not a sedentary task we're called to - although knowing that it is good to rest is also important in order to walk more fruitfully.
Perhaps it is to acknowledge that this is not a silent task we're called to -
although knowing the value of wordless waiting is also important in order to hear the story better.
Is the minister, in essence, a wandering story-teller - wandering and yet rooted in the community one is called to:
proclaiming in word, and in symbols, in speech and in gestures, the great story of God's journey to us - and our journey away and towards, away and towards him?
It is exhausting and joyful, life-giving and gut-wrenching, it is littered with the trivial and mundane and shot through with the transcendant, it is inspiring and humbling and a hundred million things in-between...and I wouldn't swap it for the world.     

Saturday, 7 September 2013

'Knowing me, knowing you': a sermon for Sunday, proper 18yr C

This week, I decided to take a slightly more expository preaching tack, and went with a sermon on Psalm 139, with one very brief nod towards the end to the other passage to be read during the service, Philemon.
And while the references to ABBA are probably entirely gratuitous, hey, why not... *grin*
It's a rather workmanlike effort, but as it was finished at 2am, let's be frank, that hour is not my most shining hour...!
The congregation I'm with use the GNB, which is okay, but I was quite shocked at how verse 14 of the Psalm read in this translation - the sense of the verse is really rather lost.

Knowing me, knowing you' 

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer,  Amen.

I have two confessions this morning:
One: I’m about to age myself terribly
And Two: I’m about to display my probably quite dubious taste in music.

About a thousand years ago, when I was little...
well, okay, a teenager,
I was absolutely obsessed by a particular pop group who were all the rage in Australia. 
And apparently they didn’t do too badly over here, either. 
I refer to Benny, Bjorn, Frida, and Agneta, otherwise known as...  
Me and my mate Deb thought they were fab, and, as you do when you’re a particular age and get a little obsessive about a band,
we collected everything related to them;
learned all their songs – and, another confession:
we sang our wee hearts out with them –
well, alongside the portable record player in my room.
We read everything we could find about them in the news and in the fan mags:
no bit of information, however teeny or seemingly trivial, escaped our notice. 
Simply, we wanted to know everything about them. 
In many ways, they were a huge part of our formative years, and they were familiar friends.  
Except, of course,they were not friends at all, and really,
when it came down to it, although we thought we knew them, 
we didn’t know them at all.

The writer of our psalm this morning is faced with a similar scenario:
wanting to know God yet, realising that the task is seemingly impossible, he - or she - confesses as much in verses 17 and 18:
‘O God, how difficult I find your thoughts – how many of them there are! 

If I counted them, they would be more than the grains of sand.’ 

Unlike me and my mate Deb, however, who would never truly be able to call ABBA our friends in any real sense,
the psalmist paints a picture of a relationship at a most deep and intimate level,
and, within that relationship, we begin to learn about – to know God – a little more. 
And what we learn about God here, can be placed under three different umbrellas:
God ... knows everything
God ever-present all-powerful.

God knows everything – we see this particularly in verses 1-6.  
And here’s a thing:
in many of the psalms, God is way out there, the awesome, yet distant creator of stars and planets and solar systems.
Yet, while the awesomeness of God is not in dispute in this psalm, note the focus...
rather than look at the vastness of the universe, it’s as if a zoom lens is put on and suddenly, the attention of the Great Architect of the Cosmos is completely upon
Verse one: you have examined me, you know me  
Verse two: from far away, you understand all my thoughts.
Here we get a glimpse of the God who is concerned with,
what might seem in the broader scheme of things,
the teeny, the seemingly trivial. 
The psalmist tell us that in God’s eyes,
we matter –
we are not incidental, but rather,
like the stars and the planets and the swirling galaxies we, too, have our place in the great scheme of things,
and that God watches over us, knows us –
knows us better than we know ourselves, 
there’s a slight edginess to this knowledge:
God knows us completely,
for nothing –
is hidden.  
The good, the bad, and the downright ugly...
all seen,
all known.

That knowledge could be almost discomforting, and you can see this from the way the psalmist moves the meditation on in verses 7-12
Suddenly, we find at verse seven, a certain twitchiness about being so completely exposed, a twitchiness that produces a desire to escape –
to try to run away from God. 
Except, as the psalmist oberves:
God is ever-present.
Whether the escape route takes us to the highest heights, or to the deeps,
to the extreme points of the compass at east or west,
or finds us attempting to hide in either blinding light or darkest night...
God is with us.
And in the midst of feeling crowded in by God on all sides, there’s this:
‘you would be there...

to lead help me.’ 
And so the sense of – well, I’ll use the term –
the sense of feeling stalked by God is suddenly diluted...
God is ever-present because God knows us,
wants to lead us,
wants to help us. 
The constant presence of God is not menacing, the psalmist decides, but one of comfort.

And this sense of comfort continues as the psalmist begins to reflect upon God, who is all-powerful.
And again, rather than meditating upon the power of God within the context of the vastness of creation,
here we see the power of God in the small,
the almost unseen –
God who knows us so intimately that he knew us even as we were being knit together in the womb
God as a knitter – it’s a nice image...
God present even there in that small hidden place:
God powerful creator not only of the universe – the big – but also, of us – of the small.
And every aspect of God focused in upon, and concerned with, our well-being.
And here is where I have a wee problem with this particular translation of the verse 14, a more accurate sense of the text here would be:
‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works’.

‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ – that’s us:
We have been created by God with the capacity to do acts of appalling 
horror –
fearful acts...
and simultaneously, we have the capacity to do amazing things –
acts of wonderful kindness, bravery, generosity.
And the all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowledgeable God gives us the ultimate gift:
rather than creating us and possessing us,
God sets us free to choose,
knowing that at times we will get it horrifically wrong
and that at other times, we will get it gloriously right.

It’s an awesome responsibility we’ve been given...
Which is perhaps why, when the psalm ends – and we didn’t read this bit out – but when the psalm ends, we find our psalmist,
having meditated upon the constant faithfulness of God,pausing...
and asking ‘examine me, test me, know my thoughts...and guide me in the everlasting way’.

The psalmist, while acknowledging how difficult a task it is to know God, nevertheless, in this meditation, can only respond by trying to articulate what is known from their own personal, lived experience of God:
that in every way imaginable,
God knows us utterly
and even so, accepts us totally;
that God is our constant guide and faithful companion on the way;
and, unlike that unrequited relationship with ABBA, that this is a relationship that is both requited, and eternal –                                              
that we are known by name,
and are more than useful:
we have been created in love,
are loved,
and are called to love.

As we ponder the One who knows us,
and who we in turn, are learning to know more deeply,
let’s take a moment of quiet to reflect, as we watch a short meditation on the psalm.

Let us pray:
God all-knowing
And all-powerful
We praise you.
We thank you that your faithfulness reaches beyond the heavens
That you are God of the big picture
And the minute detail;
That you are our comfort and our guide all the days of our lives
Help us to know you more deeply
And lead us on the everlasting way,
In Jesus’ name we pray... amen.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Friday Five: food fest

Ah dearie me, 'tis a wee while since I last played the RevGals Friday Five, but, given the circ's, how could I not?  *very big grin*
A couple of the questions were slightly trickier given my dual nationality context... and I could have cheated and answered 'haggis' to most of these.

My first ever Friday Five is dedicated to Nikki, sister RevGal, who was hungering for an opportunity to write about Haggis. With that introduction, today’s FF is all about food!

1) Is there a food from a foreign land whose reputation led to trepidation when you had a chance to give it a try? Given I grew up in a country that rejoices in having a go at eating 'weird' foods such as snake, emu, kangaroo, croc, witchetty grubs, etc.  not a lot phases me.  I did slightly baulk at snails the first time I confronted the dish in a fancy French restaurant.  

Did you find the courage to sample it anyway? Yes
If so, were you pleasantly surprised or did you endorse the less than favorable reputation that preceded it?  Bleurgh.  And again I say bleurgh.  The taste wasn't the problem - it was smothered in garlic.  The texture was just...yuck. *shudders*  And in the name of all that's good and holy, never, never again.  Actually, while you're at it, I'm quite happy to pass on the rollmops, thanks.
2) What food from your own country/culture gets a bad rap?  HAGGIS!! It's marvellous stuff, especially with a wee dram.  Or, nodding in the direction of Australia and Marci...Vegemite.  Wonderful if scraped thinly on hot buttered toast.

3) Of what food are you fond that others find distasteful?  Well, given some folk baulk at haggis... but apart from that, ceviche infused with Tanqueray Ranjpur gin is something I could become very fond of.

4) Is there a country’s food, not native to you, that you go out of your way to eat?  I could, of course, cheat here and say HAGGIS!!!  But as my grandparents were Scots, it's kinda in the genes.  Um, does Danish pastry count, or indeed, Haagen Daz? :) 

5) What is your guilty pleasure food?  Chocolate.  And cookie dough Haagen Daz [disclaimer: other brands are available] 

Bonus: What was your most memorable meal (good or bad), either because of the menu, the occasion, the company, or some other circumstance that makes it stand out?  This year's incredible edible event was the 'Seven Courses, Seven Gins' meal in the company of three other intrepid diners.  A pal was the common link between the four of us and thought it would be a fun experiment putting us all together in the same room to see what sort of conversation might occur.  Pal of hers - and now friend of mine as well - is an amazing cook and he offered the gin-themed meal.  A different kind of gin was used in the making of each course, and as each course arrived, a shot glass of the gin also appeared.
For our aperitif, and kicking things off in style - Edinburgh raspberry gin fizz...
Hendricks cucumber sandwiches
Tomato and Adnams gin soup
Game terrine with Brokers gin
Tanqueray Rangpur gin ceviche
Sipsmith jelly as our palate cleanser...
Pork in Beefeater sauce
Saffron gin rice pudding.

A very merry evening indeed - and remarkably not one hangover the next morning.  Which is perhaps why it is actually a 'memorable' meal.  Given I am not really a drinker, this was out of the ordinary on several levels.
Ingredients for a memorable meal...

Friday, 30 August 2013

Watch, O Lord...

and with a majority of just 13, the UK will not take part in what would have been an illegal military intervention.  And yet some intervention needs to be made in Syria - but what, how, when, and by whom?  I feel so helpless in the face of institutions such as the UN seemingly unable to act, I despair at the hawks circling round - more like vultures - in various Western governments, who seem itching for a fight.  Regardless of whether and what kind of intervention occurs. or does not, in Syria the overall scenario is a grim lose-lose situation.  The use of chemical weapons on one's own people to retain power - represhensible.
In the face of unspeakable acts and appalling suffering, feeling numb, and having no earthly idea of what the best way forward would be, I turn to my old friend Augustine, and offer up the words of his prayer this evening:
Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight,
and give Your Angels and Saints charge over those who sleep.
Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest Your weary ones.
Bless Your dying ones.
Soothe Your suffering ones.
Pity Your afflicted ones.
Shield Your joyous ones.
And all for Your love's sake.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Creepy or comforting, or something else entirely...

The posted pic has been variously popping on the occasional facebook wall of this or that friend.  Invariably, the friend posting the pic tends to be an avid book lover - indeed, as am I.  The picture, apparently, is meant to convey the message that reading is one of life's comforting pastimes - and indeed, it can be.  But, try as I might, it is not the message that comes across to me.  Instead, I find the picture oddly discomforting and have been wondering just why I find this imagery, well...frankly incredibly creepy.

Earlier today, a conversation about said pic occurred over on facebook.  One friend wondered if the picture might be more 'comfortable' if the woman had her eyes closed, or if the book figure had a more recognisable face - an eye to eye, face to face kind of hug.  It was a good point and I said as much.  Another friend noted that he saw the pic as was - books are comfortable friends.
Various suggestions, and interpretations were made on the one image.
As to me, I offered that perhaps my discomfort was sparked off by reading and watching just a little too much in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. 
Dr Who came to mind: the book on the bookshelf looking harmless and inviting...the unsuspecting reader perusing the shelves, until, stumbling upon this particular title, chooses it, opens it, and the book - which is really some kind of alien creature - literally, draws the reader in.  Here, getting lost in a book, taking on more menacing overtones.

It's always an interesting thing to see how one particular person, thing, theory, can be viewed in different ways by different people. 
So many perspectives.  And all in their own way entirely valid. 
I remember being in a congregation many years back now [and many of the folk still much-loved friends] where the ongoing joke was 'where two or three [name of church] are gathered together, there shall be at least five or six opinions in their midst.'  It was true enough: trying to actually organise anything was a tad like attempting to herd cats - although incredibly lovely, bright and articulate ones. :) 

The way we see a thing, our different perspectives, was on my mind this last week as I grappled with the gospel text - Luke 13:10-17 - where Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath.  I began to feel rather sorry for the poor old synagogue official, who was, after all, only doing his job, and who, I felt, was possibly terrified of the repercussions that might occur due to the healing: would this breach of the Law, as the official was interpreting it, result in a display of God's displeasure?  The fear of God literally prompting the official to rebuke Jesus?  It would be too easy to label the man as a 'jobsworth'.  In the context of both a covenantal relationship with God which entailed both privileges and duties, and from the perspective of holding to a providential view of God, the fear would be entirely well-founded. Beyond the mere 'jobsworth' label, what else might have been going on here and what was it that he was seeing; what was his perspective?  That's not to discount the possibility that he could indeed have been simply a 'jobsworth' but that also raises the question:what is it that makes someone so focused upon rules and regulations that humanity somehow gets lost in the equation?

And then, there's the woman herself; unnamed, as is the official.  She is defined by her illness, an illness that causes her to be severely bent over.  Her physical perspective is where her feet are - and the paths her feet take her.  Interactions with others are not eye to eye, or face to face [echoes here of the conversation about our picture above].  She can neither look ahead or up, only down.  And through her healing, her perspective changes, as too, her neighbours: she stands straight and tall, she sees others and others now see her differently as well.  The healing goes beyond a physical change of perspective. 
There's an identity perspective - she can now look up at those same stars that Abraham once saw: she is a child of a promise made long before.  In seeing the stars, her identity as a daughter of Abraham is reaffirmed.
And there's a wider change of perspective being offered to the community in the story concerning the meaning of Sabbath: reaffirming the celebration of liberation from Egypt through the freeing up of the woman from her bondage to whatever this illness was as seen to be entirely in keeping with the meaning and purpose of Sabbath.

Coming back to the starting point of the post, is that picture one of comfort?  For some, it is.  That's great, and I'm delighted it is so.  I still find it creepy, but it would make a cracking episode of Dr Who.  Stephen Moffat, all I ask is a 10% fee....

In the meantime, copied below is a reflection from the point of view of the healed woman - I chose to divide the sermon into three distinct compartments, in different styles, placed at different points in the service.  The first reflection was 'him' and was taking the point of view of the synagogue official, the second, 'her' copied below and in an attempt to get the feel of spoken word poetry format, and the third, 'us', hopefully brought the whole thing together, pondering on what the call to be God's faithful people might look like.

A transformed woman tells her story:


you are free’

That’s what he said to me

that young rabbi:


And called to me

in the middle of the synagogue –

in the middle of the sermon,

in front of everyone.

I strained to look up

from the floor

Saw them all

Looking at me
And looking at him.
Saw him, seeing me.

Eighteen years;
Long and lonely
a life spent looking at my feet
not able to meet
anyone eye to eye
but always

eyes cast down

back bent
burdened by illness
and distress.
I was the invisible one
the neighbours shunned.
uietly I shuffled through the village,
through my life,
not knowing what it was
to be

That Sabbath day
I shuffled in to synagogue
listened to his words
and heard
the sermon stop
and words addressed to me:

‘Woman you are free.’
And compelled,
I crept across to where he was
and felt the kindness
as he placed his hands on me.
And I,
Stood up,
stood tall
and blinked in shock,
eye to eye with him
and called
on God in praise.

And now when nights are clear
I walk outside
look upwards
to the sky
and count the stars
that Father Abraham once saw
...and ponder freedom,
and the law.