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  • Just Everyday Stuff

    Yesterday being my 'rest day' I met up with a friend for coffee before heading off to town to the cinema.

    This was a new friend - a kind of pen-pal really who I have got to know over the last year or so as we travelled similar medical and work 'journeys' (she's a hospital chaplain).  There is always that fleeting moment of 'what if she doesn't like me in real life' (and if she didn't she was way too polite to say so) but we had a lovely hour (or I did anyway) before she and her husband headed off to the funeral which was their real purpose for being in Glasgow.  There is something about some shared experiences that seems to create connectedness... Guiders experience it, GB leaders experience it. girlie revs experience it, and people affected by (at least some) similar medical conditions experience it.  Anyway J if you read this twaddle, it was brill to meet the real you, and I hope you got home safely and not too kn*ckered.

    The film 'The Artist' has attracted rave reviews so I thought I ought to go and see it.  I enjoyed it greatly (though the final twist failed to surprise me I'm afraid) not least the shameless copying of cameos from other places, so beloved of contemporary film making.  With minimal captions, it must have been quite a challenge to create a 'silent movie' for a 21st century audience... a very different challenge from the subtitling to which we are all becoming accustomed with Scandinavian imports.  All of which is interesting... in a noisy, highly visual culture, we find pleasure in films and programmes that deny aspects of that.

    Today I have the delights of clearing my living room ready for new carpet to be fitted tomorrow... poor Holly cat, she's just about recovered from weekend visitors and now more disruption to her routine!

  • Advocacy... Three Views

    Yesterday in the sermon I used three words to explore different ways we might think of advocacy, based on the etymology of some the words used in the Bible and in everyday language to describe it.

    Advocate from Latin ad vocare, 'I speak for'... the idea of someone who speaks on behalf of another because they cannot do so themself.  Beyond the 'obvious' court room image of ancient times, or even someone with power acting for someone without power, we noted that translators and interpreters may actually undertake such a role.

    Intercessor from Latin inter ceder (or some such) 'I go between'... the idea of someone who acts as an intermediary between two parties carrying messages back-and-forth, a more obvious two-way process than the advocate.  Such practices as mediation - bringing together two parties and facilitating dialogue between them being one expression of intercession.  (And of course the prayer meaning - praying for others)

    Paraclete for Greek parakletos, 'One called alongside'... the idea of someone who, rather than going between us and the other, comes alongside us and accompanies us as we encounter them.  Rather than acting for us (advocate) or moving between us and the other (intercessor) the paraclete effectively links her arm through ours and walks with us.  Such accompaniment is not passive, allowing us to fall into ditches or to wander down blind alleys, but it is the gentle nudging, encouraging and guiding that enables us to find the way forward ourselves.  This paraclete is the 'comforter', 'helper' type of advocate.

    We touched ever so briefly on the fact that scripture refers both to Christ and to the Holy Spirit as advocates, and I fessed up to the puzzle of a tri-une God within whom one persona has to act as an intermediary to another.  I suggested that maybe, in Christ we see more of the advocate-intercessor and in the Holy Spirit more of the intercessor-paraclete, but that ultimately, part of the mystery of our God is that all three understandings are there.  I cannot claim to understand it, but I trust it is so.

    And the challenge, of course, for those of us who claim to be part of the Body of Christ, who have the audacity to assert that God's Spirit is at work in us, is to think through what it means for us to be advocates/intercessors/paracletes where we are.

  • World Leprosy Day

    (I know it's homelessness Sunday too but you can't do them all every time)

    I listened online to the radio shorts for TLM England amd Wales/TLM Scotland/TLM Northern Ireland produced by GRF Christian radio, which are very thoughtful and thought provoking... built around the sense of touch, or more precisely the ability to feel heat/cold/bites/scrathces/pain.  If we touch something very hot we instinctively draw our hand away because the nerves sense the heat and tell our brains what to do.  For the person affected by leprosy, this does not happen.

    At a head level I've laways understood this, but is only since I have been landed with some permanently numb areas following surgery, that I begin to understand, even at the most basic level, what that means on a day to day basis.  So, for example, if I am out walking in midge-ified Scotland in spring/summer I not only need the repellent and the long sleeves, I also need to check the numb bits of arm to ensure there are no bites, which could cause long term problems if they became infected...  Now that's just a nuisance, and won't lead me to fatal injuries (I hope!).  For people with leprosy every day is high risk experience.

    And of course it is all avoidable.  Leprosy can be treated and even cured if caught early enough.  Yet stigma and discrimination persist and lives are blighted by this disease.

    Today I will remember with gratitude the former TLM misisonaries linked with Dibley BC and The Gathering Place, and the TLMS trustee from the latter.  We will hear a story from Bangladesh (the country with which TLMS has specifc links) and reflect on aspects of advocacy.

    One day leprosy will be a thing of the past... until then the work of TLM International (and others) goes on.

  • Bucket Lists for Churches...

    Over at the Beyond 400 website (where I wish people would get their heads around the fact that BUGB is NOT 400 years old, even if the Baptist 'movement' is, but that's another story) there is a fascinating comment from someone called Simon Goddard on this thread where he tells how his church drew up a 'bucket list' for itself as it marked its bicentenary.

    The idea of a 'bucket list' is it's the things you really want to do before you die, as popularised by the film of the same name (which I haven't seen).  Specifically it refers to lists drawn up by people who know their own death is not so far off because they have life-limiting or terminal conditions.  The poster links the idea to churches being willing to take risks rather than simply plodding on with the status quo, potentially leading to a quiet demise.

    I think having been confronted with my own mortality very sharply in the last year or so has impacted the way I look at life, though not sure it has made me more of a risk taker... the idea that "I'm going to die anyway so why not do this risky thing that my hasten that but be fun" does not cross my radar.  At the same time, it has made me much more 'present-minded' and, I'd like to think, a bit more spontaneous than I used to be (still not VERY spontaneous, but a teensy weensy bit more so).

    All of which makes me think a bit about churches and church-death and bucket-lists and risk-taking and such like.

    Firstly, church-death.  Churches die, that's just a fact.  So many times it bores me, I have reminded congregations that they won't find 'First Church Corinth' or 'Ephesus Apostolic' as they are long gone and forgotten.  Church-with-a-capital-C lives on, churches don't.  There is nothing wrong with churches dying, but often I fear they settle for slow demise rather than potential-releasing-euthanasia (where here euthanasia has its literal meaning of a 'good death').  How many near-dead churches exist on life-support, draining the life-blood from the Church, when if they died, people, money (often a lot of it, tied up in buildings) could be released to new work with and for God.  As I type this, remember, I am not anti-small church, I cut my ministerial-teeth in a very special small church that wrestled with these very questions.  Helping churches to 'die well' is a valid ministry, and actually I suspect ought to be on any 'bucket list' BUGB might wish to compile.

    Secondly, church-character.  Some churches are more naturally risk-taking than others, some find it easy (relatively) to try new and risky things, others don't.  But I have a feeling that present-mindedness - rootedness in the 'here and now' allows a greater degree of safe-enough spontaneity even for more risk-averse churches.  If 'now' is all we have (and it is) then how do we best use that time?  Earlier in the week I posted about the 'joy of the present moment'  and from time to time have alluded to the wonder of ordinariness'.  These are important and valid counters to any sense that everything on a bucket-list must be exciting or new or good-scary.  To do the ordinary well, to take delight in offering the best we can, is, I think, a good thing in and of itself.  This does not mean stagnating, since procrastination is proscribed, but it does mean that we are freed to enjoy the less 'whiz bang' if that's simply 'not us'.

    At a personal level, I don't have a bucket list.  That's not just because I am not under 'sentence of death' but because, actually, there is nothing I can think of that I would feel 'cheated' if I didn't do or would regret if I became unable to do it.  At the same time, I am starting to plan overseas holidays, having always been more than content with staying in Britain, not because I feel I 'really must' see X or Y, but because I think, 'well, why not?'  I don't have a list of places to go, instead I trust the friends I choose to go with to make the choices.  I wonder if the same may be true at a church or denominational level?  Rather than a tick-list before we die, a sense of liberation that arises from recognising our own (individual and corproate) mortality?  If we can learn to say 'why not...' rather than 'why' then that seems a good thing.  I wonder too, which travelling companions we might pick and entrust with the destination choices... but that's another train of thought entirely.


    *** I added a 'button' to link the site (thanks Andy G for mailing me one that fits, the one I got from the site doesn't!!) ....  Anyone is welcome to contribute to the online conversation***

  • Prayer... Loud and Quiet

    Yesterday evening I attended the half-yearly gathering of Baptists from Glasgow to pray with and for each other.  It is a curious event, a very Baptist event, in so much as there is no set formula, no certainty that this time will like last time or next time.  It is one of those events where the host church will be well represented and, typically, there will be two or three from the other churches.  Last night there were, overall, less people than the last time I was able to attend, due in part to the secession of one church from the Union :-( .  For me, the style was not especially conducive to prayer but for others I am sure it was superb.  However, what did impress me was a clear focus to pray not for ourselves but for the city in which we are called to serve.  Various statistics about the city were presented to us - the low life expectancy in the east, comparable with some of the world's poorest nations (and parts of Yorkshire!), the fact that unemployment has doubled in two years - which provided a helpful starting point for our prayers.  Whilst I cringed at some of the prayers that God would 'bless the Christians' (ie over against those who are not) it was really good to pray about real issues affecting real people.  Due to some less than ideal planning, people were told they'd be prayed for and then weren't, which I found a bit embarrassing, but it was good that some unemployed people were prayed with/for, and at least we were made aware of those who work as prison chaplains, youth workers and street pastors.  It was a noisy event, these things often are, and sometimes we judge events by their volume rather than their content (if that makes sense).  Last night was, if not entirely to my taste (and I enjoy exuberant worship, so it's not noise per se I dislike) was overall a good event, with some earnest prayer and genuine hints at a shared love for this city.

    This morning I sat in the stillness of my office and 'did' Pray As You Go (PAYG).  The music was calm and calming, the words gentle and leisurely.  The feel was utterly different.  Rather than intercession this was private prayer focusing on a personal relationship with God.  I loved the music they used and will be looking to purchase it - it seems to come from an Album called Sacred Dance by Keith Duke*, but the details on PAYG don't match what was played!  Far fewer words in the private prayer, more space for stillness and silence... and less to write about it.  Yet in its way every bit as authentic or inauthentic as its loud, corporate counterpart.  For me, just now, this style suited better, giving me time to open my heart to God honestly and humbly rather than making a lot of noise and risking babbling (as at least one of my prayers last night very clearly was!)

    * A bit more research and I have tracked it down... it was track 2 on the album Sacred Weave, 'You, Lord, Are In This Place'.  Both albums are available from Eden Books

    Two little things to close...

    First, it really annoys me when people lead public prayer and begin "yes 'n' Father God..."  even more, I think, than 'really, just' which we all do despite our best efforts not to!

    Secondly, here is a you tube clip of another track by Keith Duke which I find rather lovely: