Thursday, 17 August 2017

Comma Butterflies, and other grammatical beasts

Messing about with a wee writing game, which was to take a news headline
and run with it in some form or other.
So, a little silliness after a long blog silence...*
Couldn't resist the following headline on the BBC news website as I began to think of twitchy friends and grammar obsessions:

‘Extraordinary Comma Butterfly Colonises Scotland’ [web BBC headline 31 July, 2017]

It started with the apostrophes. In some places, they gathered like the plague; shop signage seemed a particular favourite for this intrusive wee beastie.  The humble tomato, when in company, soon found itself attacked and submissively turned into ‘tomatoe’s’ in greengrocer displays the length and breadth of the land. ‘Courgette’s’ soon followed, and later, the unmitigated horror that was ‘banana’s’. The apostrophe mite spread, moving out from the serried racks of assorted fruit and veg and into charity shops along the High Street: ‘book’s – 5 for a £1’ declared an Oxfam store, arrogantly.

As the egregious profusion of apostrophes began to dominate, a challenger came forth. Commas came and went; flying in when unwanted, and skulkily flitting even though needed. Determined to dominate Scotland, the Comma Butterflies bred and flourished and settled on signage, in a flurry of academic papers, in tabloid and broadsheet alike. The blighters were here to stay. Apostrophes were alarmed and the semi-colon no longer existed, wiped off the grammatical landscape. The profusion of loose-use commas saw sentences lengthen at an horrific rate. The lack of clarity was disturbing. Reaching beyond Scotland’s shores, the Comma Butterflies sought nothing less than world domination, infecting news reports. Shorter, punchier headlines began to create confusion as to character, or number. Was:
‘Trump, a Nazi and a fascist’ or, were there several people in the statement: ‘Trump, a Nazi, and a fascist’? Meanwhile, in a quiet, dusty, neglected section of the grammar garden, adverbs wept at the thought of their own futility, made powerless by their sheer invisibility.

In these dark times, however, one small group made a stand: quietly, passive-aggressive resistance created chinks of light in the bleakness. Grammar guerrillas armed with Sharpies, Tip-ex, and other correctional materials, began to fight back. ‘Tomatoe’s’ changed, overnight to ‘Tomatoes’. Adverbs were inserted into advertising billboards: the car promising ‘a real smooth ride’ now ‘really’ meant it. Daringly correct insertions of the Oxford comma brought clarity, relief, and stability to sentences. The Comma Butterflies cowered and twitched, sensing rebellion.

With each corrected sign, pedants took heart. It would be a long and vicious struggle but, with Sharpies at the ready, victory would come; Comma Butterflies would eventually take flight and flee, their over-wheening ambitions crushed. Sensing utter defeat, the profusion of unholy and unnecessary apostrophes would follow, heads hung low. The adverbs dared to raise their heads and look to a time when they would be welcome; long-lost friends come home. All would be well, and all restored to order.

*I suspect that I don't want to know how much grammar I've broken in the writing of this practice piece.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

New-born: lambs, Julian, and Ps 23

A pair of wee blackie lambs basking in the
Iona sunshine last week,
possibly plotting world domination...
We are coming to the end of lambing time in hill and valley parish. Possibly my most favourite season of the farming year - although I have the luxury of enjoying watching the lambs bouncing and playing without actually doing any of the work. I continue to admire and respect the farmers around the area: while working in beautiful countryside, yet, it's still hard graft.
A nice touch of continuity was had, however, last week when on Iona with a group of RevGals - lots of cute blackie lambs about the place, playing chase before bedtime just as they do down here.
Anyway, have been thinking about lambs...

Musing on lambs, Mother Julian, and Ps 23:

of hay and sheep
fills barn;
shepherd watches,
Low ‘baah’ meets
shrill bleat.
surprised and stunned
sits still,
mother licks him clean,
hears his tiny quick-beat heart.
Then, movement;
Fragile limbs
struggling, wriggling;
knees push
white, wiry matchsticks.
body rising
as hoof finds floor.
muscles memorise movement.
Cautious, curious;
confidence builds
then colllapses
in small, splayed heap.
Wee bleat,
then hay shuffles
as rickety legs rise.
Shepherd nods
a brief smile,
then moves on,
another yow
to tend.
All is well,
all is well.
And all
shall be well.
              c.Nik Macdonald

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Gone fishin', and other thoughts

Currently, pondering and reflecting upon the sermon for tomorrow.
It's been a different space, over the year since the end of August 2016, as I've moved from making use of the Revised Common Lectionary, to working through Brian McClaren's book 'We Make the Road by Walking' with the congregation. It's been fun encountering texts I've not necessarily preached on before, as well as finding other texts in quite different places in the church liturgical calendar than I've been used to.
Engaging with story/stories.
Making me think in a slightly different way.
All good stuff.
Hopefully, the folk who've bought the book and aimed to follow along as they could, have also found it a helpful approach.
Currently wondering where we might go from 'Making the Road'...
Always the big question, really:
how to help folk engage with God a little more - new ways, and old ways, creative ways and more structured ways, in the mystery and the everyday.
And, following on, through that engagement, how to work out that engagement
in a context wider than just a 'me and my God' way.
I'm still passionate on the 'called to be in community' thing - a challenge in a world where
we seem to champion the individual over all, forgetting that none of us ever gets 'there'
completely by our own efforts.
Anti-Hayek bias coming to the fore: there is such a thing as society...darn it.

In the meanwhile, I've recently come across Steve Garnaas-Holmes' site Unfolding Light.
Some really lovely reflections in there, and I'm looking forward to gently working my way through some of his posts while I'm on a wee break.
Given that I'm off-lectionary at the moment, and meeting fish, rather than walking along the road to Emmaus, I'll be borrowing the following during worship tomorrow, for a short reflection:

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach;
                  but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
         Jesus said to them, “Dear children, you have no fish, have you?”
                  They answered him, “No.”
         He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat,
                  and you will find some.”
                           —John 21.4-5

The surface is always blank.
The real, submerged.

Look down into that sky,
where beneath a vague cloud flashes,

—is it above or below?—
created, given, waiting.

There is another way,
another side of your little boat.

Beneath your dreary, fruitless nights
something graced awaits,

abundance exceeding your capacity, blessing
at which you laugh in wonder and fright,

a gift that bears you to the breaking point,
a net swelled with light and glory,

and not by luck, but given in love: a presence,
a companionship you hadn't recognized.

Heaven is offered, hearts are restored
in something as simple as a broiled fish, shared.

But first you learn a new way,
another side, the unrecognized friend.

And then, after the gift, the revelation,
you learn a new way, another side.

The Mystery doesn't leave you.
It leads.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Maundy Thursday reflections...

Some reflections for Maundy Thursday, written for a project that I'm involved with...

It is a week that begins so well.
The crowds roar their delight as he rides into town:
Word is on the street.
He is teaching, healing,
and the crowds surround him.
Mid-week, the mood turns
along with the tables in the Temple.
Not good for business,
all this chasing folk from stalls,
making whips from cords,
berating them for just earning a living,
running about as if he owned the place.
These country folk don’t understand
the art of tact and diplomacy.
Hackles on backs are raised
while there are still some who seek a miracle.
His friends are getting twitchy watching
as he dances dangerously on the edge.
Wary, they walk the city
trying to keep a low profile,
keeping their heads down
and wishing that he would do the same.
He doesn’t play the game:
speaks out against the powers that be
for not caring for the least,
for loving privilege more than these.
On Thursday, his friends are fractious,
cracking under stress.
He bids a couple to go prepare a meal.
Over bread and wine and blessing,
he talks of his body breaking and bleeding,
wants them to eat the bread
and drink from his cup of suffering.
It’s all too much,
and they lash out at one another:
fingers point and accusations fly.
They fight for top position
on what is feeling like a sinking ship.
His words, though quiet,
cut through the conversation:
overturn their notions.
He tells them of God’s kin-dom,
built on loving service:
seeing, hearing, those ignored
and those unheard,
and making space at the table
for all.
That kind of talk will get him killed....

'A time, and a place'
'The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death,  
for they were afraid of the people.' 
In the city, in the halls of religious power, there is fear.  
The unruly rabbi has been causing trouble.
Proclaimed by palm-waving crowds,
popularity has gone to his head.
His habit of spending time with outcasts is offensive;
his unholy act of anger in the Temple is verging on the seditious.
They must put him in his place, contain him.

So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,   
'Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.'
In an upper room, the table is made ready for the feast.
He is eager, they are puzzled;
wine is poured and bread is blessed.
The One who is the Word speaks into startled silence:
breaks bread, and says it’s his body, broken;
pours wine, talks of the shedding of his blood.
This, a meal, not soon forgotten.

'I am among you as one who serves.'
At the table, tempers fray:
ambition unmasked, they fight for power.
The beloved teacher watches as they squabble.
Three years and yet they’ve missed his point entirely.
Quietly, he pours water into basin,
takes the towel,
and kneels before them:
gives them the place of honour with a servant’s heart.
There is still a little time to learn...

'A growing darkness'
Symbolic actions could be incorporated into this reflection, 
either by the person reading, or done by another while this is being read.
This could be used just prior to Communion.  
Begin with lights dimmed, if possible....

Act I: The Plot 
(coins are placed on table at one side)
Shadows creep and darkness deepens,  
fear hangs heavy in the air.
Terms agreed - a secret meeting;  
betrayal, sanctified by prayer.

Act II: The Meal
(table is ‘dressed’ with a candle, at each end and lit; bread and wine is placed centrally on the table)
Friends now gather, drawn together,
Jesus calls them to the feast.
Blessing bread and wine, he bids them:
‘Do this to remember me.’

Act III: The Fight
(symbols of power - e.g. hammer, crown, or badge of office - are placed next to the coins)
As they eat, the talk grows heated;
bitterly, they fight for power.
Oil lamps flicker, shadows lengthen,
time circles closer to his hour.

Act IV: The Servant
(a towel and basin of water is added to the table opposite side of coins/ power symbols) 
Lamplight dims—their eyes upon him
as he speaks of sacrifice,
and of the power of humble service.
Judas walks out into night...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ash Wednesday: Dust

'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.'

It is a day of turning.
It is a day of returning;
changing direction,
and purposefully,
step by step,
walking toward, not from, God.
This is a day of new beginnings,
putting down a marker
where we start afresh,
where we wander into wilderness
following footsteps that have walked this way before -
travelling with the great crowd of saints
following the way of Jesus.

It is a day of dust,
of ashes,
of remembering our mortality;
of remembering who we are
and whose we are.
Today reminds us that we are not gods,
but we are God's:
The sign of mortality and love and belonging
smeared in ash upon us.

It is a symbol.
It is also a promise;
of cleansing,
of mercy,
of showing to the world that this
is not all there is
and that death does not have the final say.
In the mark of ashes
the power of resurrection
waits to be rebirthed.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Are you the one? Reflection on Luke 7:18-35

‘Make way!’
‘All will see God’s salvation!’
The crowds gather,
hear the call to repent,
are baptised
by the camel-haired prophet.
Is he the One
they’ve all been waiting for?
But he points, instead, to another.
when uncomfortable arrows of truth
find their mark,
the twitching Tetrarch
tries to tame
the wild man of God.
Starry vastness of open sky,
replaced by stone-walled cell.
No wandering wilderness here,
but rather wondering:
thinking of that other.
Are you the One
bringing winnowing fork and fire?
Or is it another?
Disciples dispatched,
come back,
with stories of signs
and words of encouragement.
‘Are you the One?’
is answered
by God’s kingdom breaking in,
predicted, expected,
yet strangely disconcerting.

c Nik

Monday, 30 January 2017

Centurion and Widow: a reflection on Luke 7:1-17

Centurion and widow
Had he always wanted to be a soldier?
To travel the world, fight for Rome,
and gather up honour and glory?
Had she always wanted to be a wife, a mother?
To settle down, make a home,
and calm her son with bedtime stories?

Had he ever imagined a land like this:
strange ways, strange words, strange God,
and he, with power, privilege, and prospering?
Had she ever imagined a lot like this:
hard times, hard hearts, hard loss,
her future like a vine uprooted, withering?

Different lives
and different journeys,
but both, outsiders in their time of grief.
Had they ever imagined a God
who loved both powerful and powerless,
who cared for foreigner and widow?
Conceived of a God
as patron of lost causes?
Dared to believe in a God
who’d draw the circle wider,
extend the love and blessing;
break down the boundaries
and welcome all?