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  • Tough Talking...

    Today's PAYG was based on Matthew 16: 24 - 28:

    Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

     ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

    The reflection focussed briefly on "what will it profit them if they gain the whole world bur forfeit their life?" and asked about the temptation to 'sell out'

    There is no getting away from the fact that the next few weeks in Scotland are going to see massive media coverage of matters relating to the upcoming referendum on Independence.  Emotions are already running high in both 'camps' and I have folk at church equally strongly committed to each view for all sorts of reasons, some more 'heart', some more 'head' some more 'fear' some more 'equality' some more 'it ain't broke' some more 'it's utterly broke', and so on and so on.  As an 'undecided' (apparently we account for 7% of the population) I find it really hard... people I love of both views telling me how the other side is dishonest or devious, or that they haven't heard the views that I refer to.  They didn't teach you this one a vicar school!  What they did teach us is that you can't separate out politics (issues of power) from faith so I know that open engagement with the subject is vital.

    It isn't, for me, a head-heart battle, since both my head and heart are divided and undecided here!  It isn't a theological struggle - I don't believe in earthly nation states at that level, and whatever the rhetoric on either side the values of justice, equality etc. are not so easy in practice, no-one is convincing me (yet) they are better placed to achieve them.

    I was clueless, five years ago, when I moved across a humanly defined border, in response to God's call, what the issues were, or how both Scottish and English (no one ever seems to mention Wales of Northern Ireland, let alone Isle of Man or the Channel Islands) audiences are equally misled by the media.  Five years on I am tired of defending each to the other, tired of being told the A is better than B when actually it seems to me, at least some of the time, they are simply making different choices.

    Come 18th September of course I will vote - but I honestly haven't yet decided, and if I choose the 'winning' side it will be a first... Come 19th September I will get behind whatever decision is made and do my best to work for the good of those I serve, irrespective of the outcome.

    "What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their life?"  What if we get whatever we think we want and in the process lose our humanity?  What if we become more polarised more partisan, more sectarian, more us-over-against-them, more smug?  What if it goes well and we become arrogant?  What if it goes belly up and we become bitter ansd twisted?

    When I got to the end of PAYG this morning something strange happened... something very rare given I'm a tough non-emotional type: I started to cry.  

    The call to follow Jesus, to deny self, and follow is very costly.  Deny self... not what serves me or mine best, not what makes me or mine happy or more fulfilled... I think I was crying because I hate division and avoid conflict, I think I was crying because the body of Christ is being wounded, I think I was crying because I did leave what I knew and understood to follow the call of Christ, and unless, until, God suggests otherwise I will remain here, even if that may mean being a resident alient with a work permit (for all my theological claims I'm not going to change my birth nationality for anyone!), I think I was crying because God was touching somehting inside me.

    I'm still not sure which way I will vote.  I still find myself being a chameleon and questioning whichever view people express.  But I will continue to walk in the footsteps of the one who died on a cross, and in whom there is neither Scottish or English, Union or Indpendence, Salmond or Cameron, or, indeed, any other divisive identity.



    PS to Gatherers... this doesn't mean don't share your views with me, nor does it mean don't try to covince me of your stance (I need all the help I can get and enjoy the debating/discussing/challenging) just don't expect me to find it easy... and I doubt very much I'll ever let on which way I vote in the end!


  • Coming Down the Mountain (2)

    I noticed on social media the other day a campaign to keep Clyde, the Glasgow 2014 mascot whose farewell was documented in this video...

    The desire to capture the moment by campaigning for Clyde to be kept 'alive' and 'here' seemed to me to echo Peter's desire to erect three Tabernacles on the mountain of Transfiguration... This was a wonderful few days for the whole city, maybe the nation, the UK, the Commonwealth, and Clyde embodied and expressed something precious: who wouldn't want to 'bottle' it for the future.  But you can't, that's the point.  We have to come back down the mountain of Glasgow 2014 and back to real life.

    When Mary met Jesus in the garden of Resurrection he sternly told her 'do not cleave/cling/hold on to me' ... Now I'm not equating Clyde to Jesus (just in case you think I've totally lost the plot and become even more heretical) but there's a truth here.  We can't cling on to Glasgow 2014, to Clyde and all he symbolised, we have to move forward into a world without him smiling at us, dancing in sporting venues, hugging small children etc.  We have to come down the mountain, back to the plain, transformed, if not transfigured, in some small measure by what we have seen and heard.

    Farewell, Clyde, you have taught us well. <waves>


  • Coming Down the Mountain (1)

    Yesterday's PAYG focussed on the Transfiguration story, as told in Matthew.  Usually the recordings use the NRSV, noted for its accuracy of translation, and I noted, having never before been aware of it, the injunction of Jesus not to tell anyone about 'the vision' rather than the more more usual rendering 'what they had seen'.  So I did my quick check of cross references and Greek interlinear...

    • In Matthew it is referred to as a vision.
    • In Mark they are told not to mention what they have seen
    • In Luke they tell no-one what they've seen.

    This seems to me to go a long way to addressing the literal/figurative arguments over what happened with which people seem to tie themselves in ridiculous knots.  The disciples saw what they saw, it was most probably a vision, and it was sufficiently significant that much later they recalled it and told others about it.

    Why am I saying all this?

    Well, because all translations involve interpretation, and all interpeters are biased, they choose words that fit their understanding of what they've read.  By choosing "what they had seen" rather than "the vision" the NIV translaters, deliberately or otherwise, demystify what is actually mystery, and in so doing potentially mislead readers who are probably quite literal in their views.

    Because the story told was written down decades later, and was based on a recollection of events some time, possibly years, after it happened.  Memory is a funny old thing, it is selective and ambiguous, it distorts, over emphasises, omits and re-imagines what actually occurred.  What we read is always an interpetation of recollection, not a verbatim transcript - which can lead us into dead-ends of missing the point.  Rather than questions of historicity we should be asking ourselves 'why this story, told this way' because in these editted highlights we call Gospels each author is serving their own chosen agenda.

    Because it seems to me there are two extremes to which we can err, neither of which is ultimately helpful. Unquestioning literalism at one extreme and overzealous deconstruction at the other.  The point of reading the stories is not to analyse them and critique them, it is to listen for the truths they carry.  The point is not to discover the one and only meaning of the text but to listen for new menaings that emerge with every fresh reading.  If, as we claim, this is a living word; if as we claim there is always more light and truth to break forth from God's word, then we will explore the middle ground insearch of what that might be.

    And then, after the vision, after whatever the story trells or show us, we come down our mountain.  We may say nothing to anyone, ever, or we may one day share a remembered story, or we might be dramatically changed...

  • Annual Report Time!

    I've just completed the first draft of my 'Minister's Report' for our upcoming AGM in September.

    It's always a bit of a challenge - how to avoid it simply degenerating into a catalogue of "we did this, we did that"; how to make sure I don't miss out the vital contribution of the one group/person who will be upset or offended to be overlooked; how to balance celebration and exhortation (I largely try to skip criticism if I can); how to keep to no more than two sides of A4.

    It's always a bit of a treat - time to sit back and enjoy recalling all the wonderful moments of the last year; time to recognise just how many people do so much in our church life; to see how much there is to celebrate and what exciting/challenging/intriguing possibilities lie ahead of us; to find a few photos or images to break up the text (not done that yet!)

    It's always a privilege - to know that people will read this, and want to read it, will care what I think and say, so the tone, vocabulary and style matter

    It's always a responsibility - people are precious and vulnebrale, easily damaged by a careless word or ill-phrased comment, so there's still some work needed before I can submit it

    Five years together - I've commented on it more times than enough already - and its whizzed past.  Challenges and changes, comings and going, highs and lows... and one faithful, dependable God who has been in all of it.

    Four years ago I ended my report with these words:

    "For what we shared already, thanks be to God. For what God will show us next, yes please…"

    I say them again now even if, in the light of experience that 'yes' is a more chastened, more tentative one that it might once have been...

  • One Hundred Years On...

    ... no, not from the day WW1 was delcared, but the birth of respected Baptist minister, college Principal and theologian R E O White was born... his date of birth was 4th August 1914, the day war was declared.

    Back in the day, when I was a ministerial student (as we were then called) I worked in a church where one of the members was one George Farr, then in his nineties, the former Principal of Manchester Baptist College before its merger with Rawdon to form Northern and a respected OT scholar with a love of Deuteronomy.  I used to amuse me to hear him speak of "Freddie Bruce" and "Reggie White", scholars we knew only as FF and REO respectively.

    On my shelves I have a number of REO White's books and pamphlets - but back then I'd never have imagined that I'd serve the church where his widow is still a member all these years on.

    As the old hymn says "time like an ever rolling stream will bear us all away" (20th century inclusivised version) and for most people REO White (and George Farr for that matter) are just names on the covers of dusty tomes in college libraries.  But behind those names are men who laughed and cried, who toiled over sermons and spent hours in prayer, who listened to the heart cries of church folk and who spoke their minds on occasion.  My fleeting contact with George Farr, and longer contact with REO's wife and daughter have been a privilege and a blessing for which I am very grateful.

    One hundred years on from the birth of REO White, who knows which future ministers may have been born, women and men who will take the baton on into another new century long after we have all been forgotten (except, of course, by God)