Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Sheep tails: baaad to the bone

'Ewe lookin' at me? Well are ya?
So, lemme 'splain politely to you how dis is gonna go down:
Tchu don' wanna be stayin 'roun here, unnerstan'? It could be detrimental-like, to your ongoing health, see?  If I were you, I'd be walkin' on by, minding my own business, okay, my friend?  Nuttin' to see here, right? And should you happen to meet the cops on yer way, tchu got nuttin' to say, unless you are wantin' to make friends wit da fishes, capice?'

They used to hang about and play in junior school, now they hang around the neighbourhood looking, quite frankly, menacing. What began as fooling about in the playground has grown into running a numbers racket amongst the local dairy herds and flocks. Occasionally they hold a Vegas Night, and the 'house' always wins - well, there was that one time...but the winner mysteriously disappeared.
They may look sweetness and light, but make one mistake, and these girls will make sure you live to regret it - and when I say 'live', that's not necessarily the only option.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Cloud of witnesses: Sophie Scholl

The blade is sharp, but her courage is sharper still.
Along with her brother and small cohort of friends,
she has looked the regime squarely in the eye and called it out for what it is:
brutal, dehumanising, death-giving.

Motivated by her faith, and horror of the accounts of atrocities in the East shared by 
the boyfriend who is a serving officer, she, with her friends, begins to leave leaflets 
around the city in the summer of 1942. They urge fellow citizens to passively resist 
the killing machine that has replaced good government. 
The machine is nothing, if not efficient: a climate of fear turns citizen against citizen. 
Sophie, brother Hans, and friend Christoph are caught in the February of '43, 
informed on by a university janitor who has seen them drop what is the sixth, and final,
leaflet. A trial quickly follows and the death sentence is passed four days later.
They are to be beheaded by guillotine within hours.
Before she dies, she talks to a cell-mate and states:
'How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to

give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have
to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened
and stirred to action?'
The blade is sharp, but her courage, sharper still.

I've been recently thinking around the idea of 'wild church'.
I've also been thinking of power and courage - due in part to
wrestling with various lectionary texts, and also, due to the ongoing season of Lent.
Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem.
The powers that be - religious and political - have been challenged.
To hear words such as 'the last shall be first, and the first, last',
is a prime motivator to nip such notions in the bud:
the 1% in any given era will always be determined to remain at the top,
and to keep the 99% firmly at the bottom.
Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem, the place where prophets go to die.
He not only walks on the margins with the least,
he walks on the wild side of non-conformity with systemic structures of power
and shows that real power is life-giving:
the giving of life, for the living of life in a more real and abundant manner.
The wild side of the kindom of God throws down a challenge.
It's about waving, or shining a torch, calling out:
'there's so much more than this: look! Come and see! Come. Live.'
It's the very thing that institutions and regimes fear,
for it casts a light on their own desperate clawing for power at any cost.
The Cross is looms large, but his courage, larger still.

Sophie's faith feels like a 'wild' kind of faith - the faith that dares to move from a
place of quiet comfort. A faith that turns its face towards a variation of Jerusalem,
and witnesses to that very different understanding of power:
which refuses to buy into the notion that force and bullying,
fear and manipulation, are just the way of things,
and that conformity is always the best course.
That the strongest, or the loudest, wins.
It may seem that way, but there's so much more than this: look! Come and see!

Sophie Scholl, 9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943, member of the White Rose resistance group

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Poems of the heart: 'The peace of wild things'

Last week, I was pondering things 'wild'... 
Today I was reminded of a poem by Wendell Berry - 'The peace of wild things'.
It's a tonic for the soul. 
                                                              When despair grows in me   
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 
                                                           Wendell Berry

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Going wild

Terms that I've recently come across: 'wild swimming' and 'wild camping'.  I was slightly puzzled by what these referred to, and then, with the 'ping' of a tiny light-bulb, I understood.  Although having lived in the UK for over
24 years now, occasionally I miss a wee cultural context - what is 'wild' here, is just everyday ordinary back in Australia.
We go swimming.
In the sea, in rivers, creeks, and lakes.
Oh, and in pools, too.
Up until moving to the UK, I'd never differentiated my swimming unless it was
within the context of what style I was using to move about in the water:
freestyle, breast-stroke, back-stroke, and rather poorly executed butterfly.
Up until moving to the UK, I'd never done what I'm terming 'tame swimming',
as in swimming indoors.
I just...swam.
Here, to swim 'wild' is not so much about splashing around erratically, but denotes what I always thought of as just ...swimming.
Weather differences, perhaps, factored in this cultural difference.

Growing up, and even in my young adulthood before swapping hemispheres,
I would often go camping.
Heading off to beach inlets, taking off in the boat and setting up camp on
the islands around the 'neighbourhood', or going bush (by the by, never a great idea to pitch a tent by the banks of the Condamine River without finding out first if it's wild pig shooting season - just in case you were of a mind to do so), the great outdoors was our play area and the smell of sausages blackening on a camp fire was a
wondrous thing.
But it never came with the prefix 'wild'.
It was just simple, unadorned camping.
I'm guessing 'tame camping' is what is done if staying at a special camp-site? Y'know, the ones that have shower blocks and probably even flushing toilets.

The 'wild' thing has been gently bubbling below for a little while now, but was brought quite happily up to the surface the other week.  I was away with RevGals at the BE9. Great galship, great programme by the fabulous Jan Edmiston.  We were thinking through the cultures we find in churches and communities. Good to be reminded again that all the programmes, all the great strategic planning you might do, don't amount to a hill of beans unless you actually understand the culture of the community that you're serving.
What are the sacred cows - ha, or in my case here - sheep?
What are those things that have always been? The things that matter?
The people who have always had the say in what those things actually were and are?
Are 'the things' still working?
Are the people hanging on a little too fiercely because they're scared to let go...?
On the other hand, are they the people best-placed to be the ones who have that say,
because of wisdom gained from hard-earned experience?
There was much to chew on, and, over the course of the week, my thoughts turned to the notion of 'wild church'.
This was perhaps prompted too, by one of our ice-breaker exercises:
we were asked to line ourselves up in order of 'our idea of roughing it'.
At one end, 'roughing it' included things along the lines of  no wifi in the 5 star hotel, or no bubbles in the champagne. At the other end, well, it was a little more 'wild': with a resident Alaskan *hat tip to JS* and an expat Australian. We were very much more along the lines of a 'having to use a stick to clean a fish for lack of a knife', or 'having to use bare hands, instead of a machete. to break branches to make a sleep-shelter for the night. It was ...interesting... to see how far away the rest of the group were moving from us.

Conjures up beloved Narnia books and the oft-repeated phrase about Aslan:
'he's not a tame lion, you know.'
Have we, as church, tried to tame God?
Tried to make sure that God got with our programme?
And, in trying to domesticate God, have we ourselves become tame?
Having just observed Transfiguration on Sunday, have we missed the point?
The God on the mountaintop who meets with Moses,
the Jesus on the mountaintop whose glory is revealed to James, Peter, and John
in eye-splintering brightness, is fierce and fabulous and far from tame.
While there may be a wideness in God's mercy,
there's a wildness in God's nature that we as followers in faith cannot deny.
We need to have 'wild faith', and become 'wild church', for we have been tame
for far too long: perhaps a little too cosy and domesticated, and perhaps a little fearful of
swimming out of our depths, stepping out into the great unknown.
I wonder if wild church is a place in which there is no fear of diversity?
At the heart of wild church, is perhaps, an understanding that,
within the wildness of the Trinitarian nature of God, there is unity and diversity:
that difference is not necessarily terrible or evil, it can be wonderfully good.
Rather than swimming between the lines, staying within the lane, wild church
jumps in the sea, swims with those who aren't necessarily used to, or allowed to,
swim between the lines.
Dare we have a wild faith that mirrors the One we follow -
the One who stepped out of glory and into human skin and bone?
The One who spent time, not with the tame folk, but the wild folk on the edges...
our wild, incarnational, risk-taking God?
Some do.
And there is pain, and there is glory when they do.
Sometimes, there is name-calling, shaming, and shunnin by those who don't.

'Tame church'
'Wild church'
Up until pondering 'wild swimming' and 'wild camping' I'd never differentiated between
'tame' and 'wild' as forms of church.
I just was church - part of the body - and went to church.
Time to move from 'tame church' culture and walk on the wild side a little, I think.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Sheep tails: Addie and Effie

Rural ministry tails...a new blog feature inspired by conversations on a cruise, with mad women.

Meet Addie and Effie [Adiaphora and Ephemera]
Addie and Eff enjoy dancing to the ABBA beatz down at the local village hall on a Friday night. Fond of the occasional margarita, these girls know how to have a good time and enjoy putting Ted the tup through his paces. Effie has a penchant for Manolo Blahniks, while Addie enjoys the occasional trip to Tiffany's to gaze soulfully at the sparkling beauty on display. Beyond their love of ABBA, both have been known to get down to the groove of 'Tequila'. If there's a party in the villages, Addie and Eff are front and centre.
Girls, we salute you!