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  • Lots of Gold Stars and No Grey Dots!

    It's been a VERY busy day and some people at church have worked EXTREMELY hard to make it the success it has been: I'm tired and I even had a relatively easy day (alas I'm not 27 anymore....)

    The Sunday School did an amazing job leading our morning worship, including sharing two short films they'd made, one on creation and one on Ecclesiastes 3, and a delightful story by Max Lucado called You Are Special. In the story the Wemmicks, a race of wooden people, award each other stickers every day based on how they perceive each other: gold stars for good, grey dots for not good.  The point of the story is that creator loves each Wemmick irrespective of gold stars and grey dots.  Knowing ourselves valued means we don't need any stickers.  But we humans aren't so clever, and we all crave a few gold stars - and if I'd had some gold stars today the Sunday School  would have been covered in them!  So virtual gold stars will have to suffice.

    The afternoon session with Werner Jeanrond attracted almost 70 people - who (the 70) it has to be said enjoyed copious amounts of croissants and coffee/tea.  His exploration of love and its demands was beautiful in its simplicity yet profound in its implications.  A very gracious man, who combined gentle humour with powerful intellect.  Some great audience participation from people of various faiths and none.  More virtual gold stars!

    Lastly the choral communion, with a combined choir totalling a couple of dozen, aged from about 8 to 70, and an overall congregation of about 50.  Combining a selection of sprituals, Bible readings, hymns and reflections it was a leisurely end to a busy day; a space to slow down and enjoy God, each other, ourselves and creation (link to Prof Jeanrond's theme!).  I used a 'story telling' approach for the communion, including a bit of Hebrew (written out phonetically!) which seemed to be well received.  Still more food, and some enjoyable conversations.  And even more virtual gold stars.

    So now I'm yawning contented yawns, the kind that say 'this has been a good day,' and I'm looking forward to next week's events...

  • Kairos plus One?

    It was a year ago today (to the equivalnt Saturday, not the date) that I sat in the office of the Dibley manse waiting and wondering what was happening in the Gathering Place.  A year since, on a sunny June day I looked out over a by now largely cleared site that had been the home of Dibley Baptists since 1875 (when they moved from the site they'd occupied since around 1749).


    A year since, with trembling hand, I picked up the telephone to receive news from Scotland that would decide what the next chapter looked like.

    A year on, of course, we all know that the outcome was, and I have now been in post for around nine months, but it is amazing how, even now, I can feel the tension in my muscles and the trepidation in my heart I felt then as the minutes ticked past.

    It is good to pause for a moment or two and reflect on the last 12 months - a personal rather than a church-related moment, since it overlaps two pastorates in churches which, outside blogland, share the same initials (I am, despite everything, still the minister of _BC).

    In the last year each of these churches has seen a lot of change.  Well established work has reached its natural end and new things have been tried.  Much-loved friends have died, others have moved on and new friends have arrived.  Once church is now numerically larger and the other numerically smaller; one has concluded a building project the other has one that rumbles on for the foreseeable.  One is a special place in my memory, the other my present home; both are part of who and what I am.

    A year has whizzed by all too swiftly.  Good things have been achieved and mistakes have been made: such is real life.

    Today the sun is shining brightly, and I am tapping away on my laptop in the comfort of my living room before deciding how to spend the rest of my day.  Tomorrow we celebrate our Sunday School 'end of year' in the morning and in the evening a gentle and reflective choir-led communion.  Between the two, Professor Werner Jeanrond (theology, Glasgow) leads one of our contributions to the West End Festival with a public lecture/debate entitled The Politics of Love. It will be a very busy day, a very 'Gathery' day, a very God-given day.

    A year ago today, give or take, I felt a kairos moment occurred... and today its outworking continues.  No trembling muscles or butterflies today, just the assurance that I'm where God wants me, doing, as best I can, what God wants me to do, being, for the most part, who God made me to be.  So, on this 'kairos plus one' day it is good - and from deep within my soul cries 'Alleluia!  Praise God.'

  • Refugee Week: Roadkill

    This evening I went to see a play called Roadkill which is a powerful and moving exploration of sex-trafficking of young African women into Scotland, in this case Glasgow.  The format was original - we boarded a mini-coach outside the theatre and were joined by the central characters to travel to a tenement flat in a predominantly Muslim part of town.  The action alternated between the hall and one of the rooms and combined film and animation with live action.  It was not an easy watch, nor was it meant to be, as you sat on a sofa doing nothing as a young girl's innocence was stolen from her, and she was drawn into the world of prostitution.

    As we left the tenement at the end of the play, it transpired that our bus had been vandalised (not an act!) which seemed to add something to the experience.  Various little knots of Muslim women stood in the street as fifteen white westerners left a flat which, for an hour or so, had effectively become a brothel were brutality occurred.  It was a quiet audience who disembarked from the coach back to the safety of our white, western lives.

    This play was sponsored by, among others, the Scottish Refugee Council  to help raise awareness. The Christian organisation CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking in Europe) a few years back recommended films like Lilya 4 Ever and Sex Traffic which portray something not dissimilar, albeit confined to a small screen, and worth watching if you want to consider this subject (they aren't 'nice' believe me).

    The play will be showing in the Edinburgh Fringe and then return to Glasgow.  Worth going to see.. but not for the faint-hearted.

    NB certain words in this post mean it could attract undesirable comments, for which reason it will be posted with comments not allowed.

  • Will My Geranium Go to Heaven...

    As part of my quest to find something useful to say during our 'animally' theme at church, I have been reading Creaturely Theology (Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough, eds. London, SCM 2009).  It is proving a fascinating and wide-ranging read covering all sorts of diverse topics, and I am looking forward to reading the remaining few chapters.

    It began with a summary of Aquinas' views on the created order, and a reminder that he had a relatively low view of humanity, as the lowest rank of creatures with intellectual ability (all the cherubim, seraphim and angels being higher) and assigning some sort of soul to all forms of life, human, animal or vegetable.  Of course, you need to know what Aquinas meant by 'soul' which wasn't the same as the popular 21st century western idea.  Plants had simpler souls than animals which were simpler than humans.

    Other chapters focus on the frequent reference in the Bible to 'all flesh', remind the reader of Noahic covenant, which included the animals, and of the frequent references to animals (and plants and life-less objects) praising God.  Ideas of animal metaphors for God (something I had already planned to use in my preaching series) are mentioned and prompt questions about whether or how the Imagio Dei might be glimpsed in animals.

    The chapter I've just read observes with regret that it is not people of faith who are leading campaigns against the intensive farming that sees chickens (the example the writer uses) kept in appalling conditions.  Somewhere along the line we have lost something very important in our understanding of what it is for us to be made in the image and likeness  of the Creator and have instead become exploiters.

    All very fascinating and potentially quite challenging.

    Will your geranium go to heaven?  Go and read Aquinas, then you decide!

  • The Pastor and the Imam

    Yesterday I went to a presentation at Glasgow University hosted by the chaplaincy and featuring two men form Nigeria awarded honorary doctorates for their work on mediation between faith and/or racial communities in some of the most violent parts of Africa.  You read more about the DVD they showed us here.

    The story was an inspiring one, if far from unique, showing how two men from pretty conservative faith perspectives and each having been involved in religious militia had found a way to overcome their hatred in order to work for peace.  I'm not entirely convinced the nature of interfaith dialogue was clear from the film, though it was more visible in the Q&A that followed, nor did this DVD illustrate how the mediation or reconciliation worked.  A second DVD, not yet on sale, called An African Answer (here at time of posting) moved this on somewhat with an example from Kenya and showed how a racially (tribally) divided Christian community was helped to rebuild relationships.

    It was an interesting session, with very personable speakers.  It has taken them around 15 years to reach the trust they clearly share... this has been no quick fix but a long and sometimes painful process.  I couldn't help feeling that the images that most powerfully illustrated what had been achieved were those of the two wives.  The pastor's wife with bare arms, legs and head wearing fairly low cut top walked hand-in-hand with the imam's wife, whose sparkling eyes peeked out from head-to-toe black clothing.  Neither had compromised on her beliefs or practices but each had learned to love the other.

    I'm not sure I learned anything new about dialogue or about reconciliaton, but it was good to see it in action.