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  • Communion in Many Kinds

    Yesterday morning I shared a short communion service with an older couple in their home, a monthly privilege where we sing well-loved hymns, share bread and 'wine', pray and then have a cuppa and a chat.

    Yesterday afternoon I was visiting someone in hospital on the day they were allowed to go 'off the ward' to the hopsital cafe for the first time.  Along with a relative and a friend, we shared a cuppa and a chat, and then I prayed with them.  That was communion too.

    This afternoon, with some other volunteers, I'll share tea and biscuits, play dominoes, sing redemption songs and listen to a speaker with a group of people, and quite possibly a dog.  Communion.

    Coffee club in the pub, walking club on the hills (on the increasingly rare occasions I get there), meeting to plan a wedding ceremony... communion

    Which is partly why I don't 'do' sacraments, or, if I must, why I'll have a 'sacramental universe'.  How is it a 'means of grace' to share in a religious ritual and not to hold the hand of a person who is anxious or grieving?  It isn't.  Pace all my sacramental friends, grace, like communion, comes in many kinds.

  • Confessions of a Tonsurephobe

    Today I discovered it has a name - tonsurephobia - the fear of haircuts, and that it is not at all unusual.  This post has nothing to do with being a minister and everything to do with being a human being.

    I am a tonsurephobe... the thought of booking a haircut makes me anxious, when the day dawns my stress levels rise and by the time I walk through the door my heart is pounding and it feels as if I am shaking.  I take a deep breath and get on with it.  Afterall, I'm a big girl, I've ostensibly chosen to do this, it is meant to be pleasurable, and people  always tell me it looks nice afterwards. 

    But I hate it. (Hate getting it cut, I mean, not hate the cuts I get)

    And it is only the tonsurephobia that makes me do it, because the thought of ever having to go to a hairdresser out of pure necessity makes me more anxious than going voluntarily.  So there you have it!

    I'm not very kind to myself about this.  I tell myself it is ridiculous, that even if (when) I don't like a haircut it will grow again.  That there are real things to be scared of, and hairdressers really shouldn't be one of them.

    Five years ago yesterday I had 15-16" chopped off my hair (I measured the plait, it was a good 14") ready to start chemotherapy.  It had to happen, but I was so paralysed with fear that I had to get someone else to book the appointment for me.  Recently, the memory of that has been uncharacteristically vivid.

    In theory, of course, I could choose to grow my hair again, but for various reasons I don't.  And they are all tied up with the tonsurephobia which is, I now realise, connected with powerlessness and lack of choice in the face of people wielding hair scissors.

    The first such experience I know only by report... when I was small, the nextdoor neighbours persuaded my parents to cut my hair short on the pretext that it would thicken it up... I am told I looked like an orphan, and my parents were so horrified they did not cut it again for a very long time.

    The next experience was at the age of ten.  My parents wanted me to try for a scholarship to an independent boarding school, which involved staying over for two nights.  Trying their best to disguise the fact that this was a family living on benefits, a mobile hairdresser was called in to colour (wash in wash out) and curl my hair... let's just say I hated it.  Hairdressing as fakery, and not chosen.  I didn't get the scholarship either (thankfully - the school closed a couple of years later).

    Thereafter, I got my Dad to trim my hair, and so was in my late twenties before I went near a professional hairdresser.  Asking her to give it a 'good trim' of about 3", her inability to cut straight resulted in at least 12" being lopped off.  I was not happy and took to trimming my own dead ends off ever after, not really caring if it was level of not.

    And then at 47, at almost no notice, it had to go.  Of course it had to happen, and the hairdresser was kind and gentle, the cut was careful and attractive.  But it was not a happy experience.

    So my tonsurephobia is all about powerless and lack of choice, about not being listened to, or consulted, about not having an alternative... which means I never, ever, ever want to be in a place where I have to have a haircut that I don't ostensibly choose to have... which means I have to be brave and get it cut regularly even though it's a stressful experience... which means today I stealed myself and went to get it cut, and even though others tell me it looks great, I'm not so sure... but I'll get used to it and it will settle and then grow!

    If I step back from me, and my particular rationally-based irrational fear, I begin to understand how other people's phobias and foibles might arise.  And, I guess if I put my minister head (with its freshly cropped hair) back on, how church and Christianity may be similarly anxiety causing for other people.



  • An Old Story Retold

    Yesterday, as part of our monthly theological reflection group I shared this retelling of a familair parable that I had found on line...


    The Good Samaritan Retold – Again


    I guess we all know the parable of the Good Samaritan?


    On one occasion a British politician stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    "What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”


    He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”


    "You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

    But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

    In reply Jesus said: “A Syrian refugee was going down from Hungary to Germany because his country and family had been attacked by robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  Many politicians happened to be going down the same road, and when they saw the man, they passed by on the other side.  But a German politician as she travelled, came where the man was; and when she saw him, she took pity on him and 800,000 of his fellow refugees, she went to them and bandaged their wounds and took them all in.


    "Which of these politicians do you think was a neighbour to those who fell into the hands of robbers?”

    The British politician replied, “That's no way to reach a long term solution to the problem.”

    And Jesus wept.                                  


    (Steve Bunn)


    It's very challenging, and it's meant to be.


    It also serves as a keen reminderof the tension between short term urgent responses and long term, lasting solutions.  The British politician is cast in the role of the baddy - and yet there is truth in what he says... responding to an acute humanitarian need  is not of itself a long term solution.  The point of the story, or at least as I heard it, is that the British politician justifies his inaction in the here and now rather than really advocating a long term, thought through, solution to an impossibly complex set of circumstances.  Self-righteous refusal to engage - the attitude we ascribe to the Pharisee and Levite in the orginal.


    I remember either hearing a sermon or reading a reflection on the original parable, that pointed out that this, too, was an acute repsonse to a specific incident, not a long term solution to the problem of attacks by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  The instant, humanitariin response is essential, is indeed the demonstration of neighbourliness.  But it isn't ever enough, at least not in a disordered world where the root causes of violence, injustice, poverty, religious fundamentalism etc continue unabated.


    The German politician in the story is a neighbour to those she helps... but the British politician has a point too, just not the one he thinks he's making.  It isn't ever as simple as 'either/or' it has to be 'both/and'.  Fish and fishing rods.  Aid and agency.  We have to be neighbours here and now - to recognise and respond to the human need of others.  We also have to take a long term view and work towards a day when such crises are old history.


    What makes Jesus weep is self-righteous inaction, the denial of humanity in oneself or another.  It is a challenging story, and so it should be.

  • Here from Day One

    On 23rd August 2010, my BC:AD (before cancer - after diagnosis) day, the specialist breast care nurse handed me a leaflet produced by Breast Cancer Care which explained what was going on... though I didn't yet realise it, they were "here from day one".

    I can be really annoying, I am one of those people who carries in her head/heart a whole raft of dates, times and places.  I hear a song on the radio and work out the year it was released by associating it to people, places and events.  And perhaps most annoyingly, I have a whole catalogue of personally significant dates locked away on my mind.

    One of the ways I 'make meaning' of my cancer experience, weave it into the tapestry of my life, allow God to transform and redeem it, is to volunteer with Breast Cancer Care... at the time of this blog post, I am giving telephone support to five women (typically one call a month) and email support to another four.  It also means I got a sneak preview of the new advertising being launched today with it's strap line "here from day one" (also "care from day one" on some items)

    This video, one of half a dozen or so that will be released in the next few days/weeks, resonates with my personality that recalls dates... "On Day X..."  I love the strap line - it expresses something important.  See what you think of the video...

  • Giving Thanks

    Yesterday we weclomed as many guests as regulars to morning worship at the Gathering Place. 

    This had involved team of around eight folk coming down the day before to carry chairs up from the cellar, wash them and arrange them, along with every 'normal' chair we could muster to accomodate everyone. 

    It had also involved the family who were giving thanks for their child researching and identifying an appropriate liturgy to combine with our usual 'infant/child blessing' liturgy to reflect the unqiue circumstances that had brought us to this point.

    And, let's be honest, it had involved me getting more than a bit stressed and grumpy in the final run-up.

    As is the way of these things, and so often depsite us, God's Spirit was at work and we enjoyed a happy, beautiful occasion with a 'child in the midst'.

    The three candles were lit by the parents as part of the Iona/Wild Goose liturgy they had chosen to give thanks for the adoption of their daughter.  One candle for the birth parents, one for the foster carers, one for the child and her forever family.

    The cake was made and decorated by one of our ladies, who marvelled that her choice of butterflies as decoration echoed the metaphor of butterflies I'd used in my sermon.

    Our prayers of intercession skilfully led by another church member, allowed us to recall the child refugees fleeing Syria and allowed us to pray for those who try or struggle to parent children.

    Yesterday I could not help but remember an infant blessing from exactly five years ago, a boy, the second born of his parents (and who was there yesterday with his older brother and younger sister) about which I blogged at the time here

    A lot of memories were stirred for me yesterday, more perhaps than was comfortable, not only in that service but in the songs someone else had chosen for the evening service.  Today feels more settled, the intensity has waned and that's probably a good thing.

    Yesterday was a profound privilege, giving thanks for the daughter of one church family, visiting the (grown up) daughter of another in hospital recovering from a very serious illness... life in its fulness for sure.