Monday, 9 November 2015

Music for the soul: Be Thou my Vision

Going a little off the point for NaBloPoMo, but still on a theme of hymns...

It may take a moment to get to the point, re. the title of this blog entry:
do bear with me...
Several years ago, in conversation with a pal, we were talking about funerals we'd been to.  Having put the world to rights about why this or that was perhaps not very good, or why such and such was really rather excellent, we moved on to our own funerals: what would we like when the day came?
While it ended up becoming one of the funniest conversations I've had, it was eminently practical as well. Said friend, normally a pretty quiet and
self-composed person, declared in the end:
'No! I want to go in style - I want the full works! I want a horse-drawn hearse; the horses -
with black feather headdress, a man to lead the hearse in front,
walking slowly and seriously. I want to be taken to the church that way,
with the beat of a slow drum to keep time. And then, the total pomp
and ceremony of a funeral Mass - with clouds of incense.'
We talked on, of readings, and hymns, and giggled our way through
the thought of hiring professional mourners, as they did, back in the day.
As an aside, said friend is a Pisky, with a seriously well-developed sense of
humour, and so high up the liturgical candle that you're in danger of nose-bleed...

The practical and pragmatic outcome of the conversation was, however,
a prod to go to the solicitor and get the will sorted. In said will, there's
also a funeral arrangements file. Dull Presbyterian that I am, and knowing
I'd never compete with friend, I've noted who I'd like to conduct the thing -
if they happen to still be shuffling about this mortal coil,
and also noted a bible reading and hymn.
The reading? The Prologue of John.
I am nothing, if not an incarnation nut - that text goes deep.
It's almost the best thing about Christmas worship for me:
God's 'yes' to the world.
The surprise of expected, yet wholly unexpected love.
And the hymn?
Always, always, 'Be Thou my Vision'
Text and hymn meeting in beautiful symmetry.
The version I like the best has the line:
'be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight'
It's a comfort, especially on my more numptyish of days,
for this 8 on the Enneagram.
A reminder that in the end, it's actually going to work out fine -
that when I've lost all shred of dignity,
I stand in God's dignity.
That, in a job that's about being real,
which calls me to strip away the pretence,
God's dignity suffices.
There's the reminder to, about delight.
Delight is good.
Delighting in God, better.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

NaBloPoMo 7: 'You had me at "hello"'

The film 'Jerry Maguire' spawned a thousand parodies and memes with the line:
'You had me at "hello"'.

The opening line/s of a book can do that: grab you, and hook you in.
Today's NaBloPoMo prompt was to 'post the opening sentence of your
favourite book. How long has it been in your life?'

No. Can't play the game quite in that way.
There have been too many - are too many - friends in paper format
that have stood the test of time. Instead, I've decided to post opening gambits
to several companions in print instead - mostly from my childhood, up until
the age of 30. There may be another post to fill in blanks up until the present
at another point! In the meantime, I've loved journeying down memory lane!

''Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.'
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; C. S. Lewis
Ahhh, but I wanted so very much to live in Narnia. I was 8 when I went through
the wardrobe and discovered this world.

'“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.'
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; C. S. Lewis
This, of all the Narnia books, was my favourite - sea adventures!

'One spring morning at four o'clock the first cuckoo arrived in the Valley of the Moomins.'
Finn Family Moomintroll; Tove Jansson
The lovely Moomins - entirely other. Loved them. c.8 or 9yrs

Before you fairly start this story I should like to give you just a word of warning. If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps; a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down the book immediately and betake yourself to 'Sandford and Merton' or similar standard juvenile works. Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are. In England, and America, and Africa, and Asia, the little folks may be paragons of virtue, I know little about them. But in Australia a model child is—I say it not without thankfulness—an unknown quantity.'
Seven Little Australians; Ethel Turner'
I think I was 10 or 11 when I came across this great Australian classic.
Ah, Judy and the picnic at Yarrahappini - I wept.

'They were not railway children to begin with.'
The Railway Children; Edith Nesbit
'Daddy! Oh my daddy!' - As the steam cleared from the station platform,
another weepy child turned the pages as Bobby ran to meet her father.
Still brings a wee lump to the throat, so it does. I was 12.

' 'Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place.'
Anne of Green Gables; L. M. Montgomery
An avid reader of all the Anne books. One day I will manage to visit PE Island...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.'
A Tale of Two Cities; Charles Dickens
A tan hardback, slightly worn. It fell into my 13yr old palms, was opened,
and was not put down until I'd finished by the end of the day. Stunning. Moving. Wonderful.

'When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.'
The Fellowship of the Ring; J. R. R. Tolkien
I was 13-14yrs old when I entered Middle Earth. And every year,
I return and find new things.

'When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.'
To Kill a Mockingbird; Harper Lee
I was either in Grade 11 or 12 - 17 or 18yrs old. A set book for English.
Who'da thunk a compulsory book read would become an enduring love.
I have not yet been able to read the recently published Harper Lee -
Atticus is still too precious to lose.

'I was born in the year 1894 at Maidstone in Victoria. My father left for Western Australia just after this, taking with him my two older brothers, Joseph and Vernon. The discovery of gold in the West had been booming and thousands believed that a fortune was to be made.' A Fortunate Life; A. B. Facey
Bert Facey - the heroic in the ordinary. Another Aussie classic and his life is primary
source material for the Gallipoli story. Extraordinary and inspiring.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.' Pride and Prejudice; Jane Austen
Oh, love the wit and sparkle of Austen at her best. Stumbled happily into the world
of Lizzy and Darcy back in my early 20's. The book's a keeper and I regularly re-visit.

'High in the Australian Alps a little stream, just born, moves invisibly beneath the snow or can be glimpsed through a blue-shadowed hole between the melting snow bridges.'
All the Rivers Run; Nancy Cato
Delie Gordon still has my heart. Riverboats and the sea. Belonging
and finding your heart's true home.

'The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.'
The Princess Bride; William Goldman
Just because it's possibly the best story ever.

'Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.'
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Douglas Adams
I was late in discovering mice and dolphins, petunias and whales.
A German pal introduced me to this nutty, funny, clever stuff when I was 30.
I try to keep a towel nearby me, wherever I am.

Friday, 6 November 2015

NaBloMoPo, Day 6: a visit with my 8 yr old self

It's NaBloMoPo, Day 6, and Julia's prompt is:
'when you were 8(ish), what did you want to be when you grew up?' 
Pitter, patter.
Rattlerattlerattle of ball into fence behind.
For hours.

When I was 8, I was learning to play tennis.
The sound of ball being expelled from machine
and propelled across net at Biggera Primary School courts.
Hand-eye, footwork, learning to co-ordinate.
That wonderful sound when the ball was struck true,
hitting the sweet spot.
A lone kookaburra in a nearby tree laughing when I missed.

At eight, there were two career paths looming:
I was going to be a tennis player, and I was already
beginning a school-girl crush on Chrissy Evert.
Either that, or I'd become Prime Minister of Australia -
I'd already sent a letter to the current incumbent in Canberra, thanks to an imaginative Aunty who was quite happy to instil a sense of political awareness into my young mind.
And yes, I received a reply from Parliament House, in a most official-looking envelope -
not from the PM himself, but his Principal Personal Secretary.
I was mightily impressed by the title and capital letters.

I played tennis for years - on the school team, and later, club tennis.
It's been years since I picked up a racquet - and I'm a bit horrified
with the thought of just how rusty that particular skill is by now.
I also didn't manage to become PM of Australia - but I suspect it
helps if you live there, and I haven't for nearly 24 years now.
Although, as I recall, the other 8yr old yearning was to live in Narnia and
hang out with fauns...
Tennis, politics, and becoming a Narnian aside,
these days I'm mostly content with the adventures I've had
both in and out of wardrobes/closets, travels on the way, and ending up
being and doing something I'd never anticipated at all when I was 8.
Life has not been dull, and while there have been hard parts,
there's been quite a lot of laughter. I'll take that as a win.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

NaBloPoMo, day 5: of job descriptions

Julia, prompting for NaBloPoMo, asks: I had a little furnace mishap at church on Sunday. What's something you've done for your work that wasn't exactly in the job description?

I think I want to put this in the file 'things they didn't teach us when we were training.'
A year into the parish and what's emerged for me is the number of small
trusts that the parish oversees - mostly due to historical accident.
As minister of this particular parish, some of the Trusts that I am Trustee for
include within their remit ensuring that one sack of coal is given to the
indigent villagers of X village at Christmas; maintaining and keeping insured the window
of a church ... that isn't actually ours anymore, and is a private home. Tricky, that one.

It both fascinates and frustrates me in equal measure, that some of these wee Trusts
are hedged about so tightly with specific remits, that we can't actually make use of
them for the more modern village contexts. And I continue to ponder on why I seem
to have inherited all these odd wee pockets of not-get-at-able funds. I suspect it's one of
those back in the day when the minister, school master, and bank manager were around
and were considered 'worthies' - responsible and respectable, and thus, most
qualified to act as Trustees, dispensing benevolence upon the 'deserving poor.'

Meanwhile, lesson here: if you're leaving a legacy of any kind, for whatever purpose,
make it flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances a little further
down the track.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

NaBloPoMo, day 4

Ah, missed Day 3 of NaBloPoMo. Never mind. 
Both yesterday and today, I did drive around quite a substantial part
of my gorgeous parish today, however. The prompt for Day 4 involves
the posting of a photo - huzzah, piccies!! The pic is supposed to represent something
I see all the time, and thereafter, write a little on what the thing means, symbolises,
or reminds me of; this, in order to provide a wee glimpse into my world.
Okay. I'm on this.
Rush hour in the village...
The parish I serve in is very rural - lots of sheep. 
The posted pic was taken from my front door on a rather rainy day earlier in the year. 
There's a big field encirling the black and white house opposite the manse. 
From my office window over the course of this year, I've watched
the seasons of the farmer's year unfold - from lambing to breeding, 
to herding for tup sales, and everything else in between. Every day, 
in my travels in this parish of 180sq miles, there are sheep to the left of me, 
or sheep to the right of me, and occasionally a sheep who decides the grass 
really is greenest on the roundabout leading to the motorway. 

Sheep, and the attendant work around this industry, are very much part 
of the life-blood of this area. Having been a townie for most of my life, and
a coastal-based townie at that, the immersion into rural life has given me a fresh
way in which to read scripture.  Parables about selling off part of a farm to one 
of the sons, or of lost sheep being found, take on a slightly different significance
now: I certainly appreciate in a more nuanced way, the impact of asking
that a farm be split up. I also wonder about the metaphor of minister as shepherd -
and over the course of this first year in ordained ministry, am gently learning
this particular craft - a craft that is a life in the learning. It's an astonishing thing
to me, to realise that I have now been here for a year - possibly the quickest year
of my life - in what has become home amongst good folk. I'm also wondering
what that great Shepherd of the sheep has to teach me over the course of this
next year. In the meantime, I watch the sheep, and hopefully tend my people to
the best of my ability - and often find that I've a rather big grin on my face still:
I suspect I am possibly the most fortunate minister alive, and I am content.

Monday, 2 November 2015

NaBloPoMo day 2: clothes maketh the meenister

Always happy to find helpful prompts for writing, and it's NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month. I'm not sure if I can commit to a post a day for this month - heck, I've already missed the beginning, but time to dust of the blog keys. Thanks to Julia at RevGals for going the extra mile and posting daily prompts...
Today's prompt:
'write about what you wear at church 
(your best clothes, your comfy clothes, robe, stole, etc.). 
What does the phrase "church clothes" look like in your world? 
Or write what you want.' 

I learnt early in my church life that while a cossack can commit a multitude of sins, 
a cassock can cover a multitude of 'em [sins, not cossacks].
Prior to beginning my first training placement, I met with my soon to be supervisor.
During the course of the meeting, he asked 'Do you have a cassock?'
I replied that I didn't, but wasn't sure that I was allowed to in my non-ordained state.
'Anyone can wear a cassock!' he said, rather animatedly.
I paused, and then timidly offered: 'I have an academic gown and hood.' 
'It will have to do.'
Don't get me wrong - I grew to love that supervisor - a wordsmith, with an eye
for liturgical detail. Every Sunday felt like being in a worship masterclass of 
Scoto-Catholicism [or high Presbyterianism] at its finest. Over the months that followed,
I reflected on the whole 'dressing up in frocks in Kirk' business, very much out of my 
comfort zone by personal choice. Several months down the line, it made sense to
get a cassock: it was a contextual choice. Just as the style of liturgy made sense
within the ancient building we were in, so too, the clothing. A time and a place
for everything, and this was the time and place for more formal wear.

Over the course of my training, I did quite different styles of placement: high, low, 
in-between, non parish chaplaincy, overseas. I wore a variety of different outfits.
Alongside, at the various training conferences and around the tables at New College, 
conversations were had amongst traineed meenisters about the wearing of items 
that would possibly mark us out as clerics, once ordained.
''I will never wear a dog collar: it's just not me!' was a common catch-cry, 
occasionally along with mocking those who wear somewhat higher liturgically 
in their approach. Those on the other side of the great costume drama could be 
equally as scathing. At times, it was really not that pretty to be a party to such discussions.
I watched the great costume wars wax and wane, and at some point in my own thinking
came to a point where I felt it was less about 'me' and more about context.
It was never one of those drawing of a line in the sand matters where I was concerned.

My personal preference is to wear a cassock - I feel less bothered about
the potential for people to be distracted by the colour of the shirt, 
or the fit of the trousers when I'm in the cassock. I also move differently and
like the way that feels. It's practical and it keeps me warm in winter. Let's not
talk about summer, however...
In the parish where I now serve as minister, I wear a cassock.
It was given to me as a gift by my lovely folk - and out of sheer respect for them,
I wear it during the morning service. 
Evening worship is a very different ball-game.
I'm often not leading it, thanks to the gifts and talents of a wee worship team.
I turn up in civvies, and quietly cheer them on from amidst the rest of the
gathered congregation. Last week I was in clergy collar and shirt - but this
because I was taking part by leading us in a simple communion service. 

If I had a theological/ liturgical nod towards the cassock, perhaps it would be
that, before worship, I'm pretty casually dressed for comfort: clerical shirt under a jumper, 
and am often in black jeans, not suit trousers, due to the vagaries of the weather 
here, but also the kind of parish it is. On those Sundays that are higher up the scale,
as this coming Sunday will be - Remembrance Sunday - I'll wear a suit. 
Before worship, I wander about the pews catching up with folk, a word here, a word there.
As time moves towards worship, I go and put on my cassock.
When I walk down the aisle to the sanctuary, it's that wee visual marker,
of time and space changing - we are entering into worship - time to settle ourselves,
time to set apart this particular space and time. Both collar and cassock are the uniform
that makes me easily identifiable.
In a couple of weeks, I'll be opening up the church to the students of one of our schools
as part of their school work. I'll pull out the cassock and bring the many stoles I've
been gifted - let them have a go at wearing the stoles too. And we'll talk about
what the church is [I'll be saying it's not a building, it's us], and what we do in the
building. The clergy outfits here, will become an educational tool.

Outwith church, context again, is the determining factor: personally, I'm happier
not being choked by a collar, however:
I'll visit the schools wearing 
dog collar and clerical shirt - but jeans and jumper. 
And the same with hospital visits or visiting older folk who may have memory issues -
though I'm particular about trying not to wear a black shirt in these latter two, due to
potential death associations! 
However, suit with clerical shirt/ collar for parish 
bereavement visits. Always. It's expected - and it's not about me.
These particular places/ contexts the collar's a helpful visual cue as well 
as being a uniform. But in some places, I will not wear a collar at all - 
in one of my villages, particularly, it makes it harder for folk to feel able
to talk comfortably - it's a barrier, so it is not worn.
In the end, I think that's probably the deciding factor regarding what to wear:
will it help/ is it a barrier? If it's the former, I wear the outfit; 
if it's the latter, then I go without.
Clerical clothes don't maketh the meenister...I'm minded of Francis of Assisi's dictum:
'preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words'. 
In this case, if the clothes help fine; 
if they hinder, then find something else to wear.
Although...I have a strong suspicion I won't be wearing these: