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  • Fish 'n' Chips

    Among the various things I've been doing with my time during this convalescent period is to begin knitting garments for "fish 'n' chips babies" in Africa.  If you search online you can find out more, and even download a pattern if you fancy giving it a go.  The project began as a response to a terribly sad situation where tiny babies born with HIV/AIDS would be wrapped in newspaper to keep them warm for the very short time they would live.  The wrapping in newspaper, effective, practical and cheap, earned them the name "fish 'n' chips babies".  People, on discovering this, were moved to knit simply garments that would keep these babies warm, and communicate a message of love and worth however short their lives... These would be the only garment the child would ever possess.  Times have moved on, and there are evidently less of these very tiny babies, but the need to for warm clothes remains, and the simple 'jumpers' and 'beannie hats' are gladly received.

    As I knitted, I found myself recalling how the two former Liverpool bishops, Warlock and Shepherd, were often referred to as the "fish 'n' chips bishops" - always together and seldom out of the newspapers.  This brought a smile, as I remembered the united walks of witness between the two cathedrals - and the endless singing of "Halle, halle, halle, lu-u-yah" - as a crowd composed of local people, curious onlookers and angry objecters lined the streets.

    And then I recalled something else about things that appear in the newspapers... read today, round the fish 'n' chips tomorrow, forgotten the next day.  As one of life's worriers, or at least an over-reflector, I am reninded that I will still be mulling over my actual or perceived failings long after everyone else has forgotten them.  Which is a tad daft, because I never dwell on those I perceive in others.

    Nowadays in the UK, fish 'n' chips are wrapped in clean off-white paper, health and safety having long since deemed newspaper too grubby.  Perhaps somewhere in this is a metaphor worth pondering...

  • Way Out Lent (15) Exodus 32

    Only one chapter today because of my weird thing about even numbers, or at equal proprotions or whatever it is... just be grateful it's not catching!  For all that it's a l-o-n-g post.

    We've just spent time with Moses up the mountain with Joshua nearby.  Moses has a huge list of rules and regulations and instructions for the creation of the tabernacle and the ordination of the priests.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

    Moses has been gone for such a long time that the people wonder if he will ever come back.  There is no sign of him returning, and he has given no clue of how long he will be.  Perhaps it isn't so surprising that the people become restless and start to question the status quo.

    Open-ended waiting is hard; having leaders who assure you that all will be well and yet nothing seems to change can be frustrating.  The people have left the familiarity, and remembered comparative comfort, of Egypt, have travelled a long way, faced some challenges and now feel well and truly let down.

    Looking back, I am sure there were times when the good people of Dibley wondered what we at, as it took seemingly forever to get planning consent, and then even longer to sell the site where worship had been conducted for over a century.   There were a few who vocalised disquiet but the majority stoically got on with things, trusting God, and trusting the team charged with overseeing this, and trusting the professional advisers.  Did we get all of it right?  Of course not.  But we never faced the situation Moses did when he came back from the mountain.


    Chaos and a Calf

    The description we have is a sorry one.  Aaron (and the elders) seem to have allowed things to get out of control, perhaps adding to the frustration of the people.  Perhaps the response to their request to make them a god is the result of an attempt to regain favour.  Certainly the people seem to be unified in their endeavour, hand over their gold and Aaron makes for them a calf to be their God.  With some slightly confusing language about 'gods', Aaron then instigates "a festival to the LORD" which finds expression in sacrifices before the calf and a good deal of revelling.

    I suppose what this makes me wonder is what alternatives are attractive to use when we grow frustrated or impatient with church or with God?  And perhaps for my own role, what I my learn from the story... in what ways might I be like, or be tempted to be like, Aaron?

    Meanwhile, back on the Mountain... Does God's Mind Change?

    Events on the plain are not hidden from God on the mountain - God sees, hears, smells, etc. and is raging mad.  So much so that God declares a desire to exterminate the entire population apart from Moses.  Moses, however, will still found a great nation (how or what that might have been, we'll never know).

    Moses is horrified and pleads with God to spare the people.  There are two strands to the argument:

    • how will it look to the Egyptians if you do this?
    • what about your promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

    And, we are told, God's mind is changed.

    Do we ever speak to God like this?  Do we ever look around and wonder what other faiths or other people groups will think about the God we claim to worship?  How much of what is perceived is about the nature of God (as we understand and claim it to be), or the image of God that our attitudes and actions portray?  Do people look at us and think, "well I'm not wanting anything to do with a God like that!"

    Do we ever find ourselves reminding God of God's own promises?  Not in the twee way I sometimes hear along the lines of "Lord have said in such and such a book, chapter X and verse Y that..." but the big promises of God, the eschatological hope towards which we direct our lives in the present?  And if so, what difference do we think that makes, to God or to us?

    Does God's mind change?  Scriptures tell us it does, or that it can be if the cirucmstances are right (remember the pleading over Sodom and Gomorrah?).  And if we think God's mind can change, usually it seems from a position of anger, vengeance and judgement to one of compassion, forgiveness and redemption, then what does that say to us?  I wonder who are the people, or people groups we consider to be under divine judgement and for whom we should cry to God to change God's mind?  I wonder too, what it might mean if we dared to believe that God's mind has been changed about those who the scriptures identify as cursed or damned...

    Strong stuff!


    Human Anger...

    It is striking, I think, that having persuaded God not to destroy the people, Moses finds himself so utterly furious that he casts down and breaks the stone tablets he has carefully carried down the mountain.  Striking, and perhaps resonant... Sometimes I can 'do' the right thing and be professional and calm and rational in one context only to find myself exploding in another.  Sometimes it is easy to forgive at a universal, largely hypothetical level, and really hard to do so at a local, personal level.

    Moses gets mad and stamps his feet.  So, sometimes do I.  So, sometimes do we all.  Even when we've asked God to be merciful and forgiving.

    Perhaps the challenge, for me at least, is to reflect on the nature and purpose of such anger as I experience... what causes it, is it justified and what am I going to do about it, consistent with my faith claims.  Are there (and there are) big issues that raise my ire that I ought to be more active in pursuing?  Are there aspects of my reaction to small things (and I'm sure there are) that I need to address to make them more healthy?


    Who is on the Lord's Side...?

    Moses asks this question and the levites say "we are".  What happens next is horrific.  As demonstration of thier commitment they are sent to kill family members and friends. 

    I can't find anything positive to say about such an action, and yet even as I type this stream of consciousness stuff, I find myself recalling words of Jesus "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26).

    If we believe the words of Jesus to be true, then we still have a jealous God who expects to be Number 1 in our lives.  If we are not to 'hate' our loved ones (and let's face it, we are in fact called to love everyone) then still we are expected to put our discipleship first.

    I do struggle with this, because I see family and community as gifts of God and vocations in their own right.  I struggle because I know all too many families where working for a church has damaged or destroyed relationships.  I know too many people my own age whose parents were out every night doing good work, arguably Godly work, who now never cross the threshold of a church.  I sturggle because looking back over my own life, I have often been so busy with church or Girls' brigade stuff that I have neglected family and other relationships.

    Who is on the Lord's side?  Jesus also told us that no-one sets out to build a tower without counting the cost, or goes into battle before they are confident of victory.  Perhaps it is useful to remind myself of this, that disicpleship is costly, demanding, slometimes disappointing, sometimes dispiriting, and that I might not always like what it means... and only then to rededicate myself afresh to be 'on the Lord's side' not killing, maiming or destroying those close to me, but at the same time recognising that sometimes there will betough calls to make.


    It Wisnae Me

    This is an intense and troubling chapter, so perhaps we need just a tiny bit of levity.  When Aaron is challenged by Moses about the making of the golden calf he lies in a way that is as funny as it is ridiculous... he lemted down the gold and out popped this golden calf.  Aye right.

    The dog ate my homework... or the one my Dad evidently once said, "the pigeon frightened the coal hammer" (the context of which is lost in the mists of time)... or as someone once said to my English teacher, "my Mum sold my homework at a tupperware party"....  Excuses and lies that are risible and yet can disarm a heated situation... My Dad always claimed he escaped punishment for whatever misdemeanour it was because his own father fell about laughing; certainly the entire English class was in tucks at the idea of an essay on Shakespeare being sold at a tupperware party.

    Sometimes I am told that I am too honest, that I say things that would be better left unsaid.  Sometimes my best endeavours fall way short of what I'd hope.  For personal and historical reasons, I am really uncomfortable with lies and half-truths, even when they are ostensibly 'white' or good'.  I get it at a head level but not at a heart level.  Sometimes, too, I need to learn not to take myself quite so seriously!

    Not sure this goes anywhere, but let's just enjoy the ridiculous image of a golden calf leaping from the flames surrounding the melting pot..!


    That's a lot of stuff from one rather troubling chapter, and I've missed quite a few bits.  Maybe, just maybe, there is something worth pondering in these ramblings.  Maybe if you read/have read the chapter you will find other things to ponder too.

  • Memories

    This week one of the tasks I've set myself is to create a "memory book" for my Mum who has recently being diagnosed with dementia.  Photos not of high days and holidays, though there are a few of those, but mainly just snaps of family members through the years which can, hopefully, act as a prompt for conversations and, when memory eventually fails and we become as strangers, she will look at our photos and recall her middle-aged children.

    The grainy black and white photo above was taken by one of my brothers aged about 7 on a little kodak brownie 127 camera.  My parents are stiting on the grass outside the 'Old Rectory' where we lived in one of two large four bedroomed flats.  In the background is the parish church where we would go on Mothers' Day afternoon for a children's service and return clutching posies of spring flowers (the rest of the time we went to the Methodist Sunday School).  I hope that by looking at the photo - and others - my Mum will be able recall days gone by... and I hope too that the majority at least of the memories stirred are good ones.

    It's strange the things that this photo prompts in my memory, from the crunch of the gravel, to rain coming in through the walls, to the nights we sat around listening to stories before bed, to grazed knees and the smell of germolene, to the roses in the garden and the yew tree we climbed when no-one was looking.  Definitely a rose-tinted list there, but mostly the time at this house was, for me, happy, and it's good to remember.

  • Way Out Lent (14) Exodus 30-31

    In this section we have the detailed description of the altar and the basin to be used for scarifices, along with the recipe for preparation of the anointing oil to be used in consecrating the sacred objects.  Interwoven with these are some small, and interesting, details.

    The Census

    I can honestly say I had never before noticed the reference to a census in Hebrew/Israelite practice, yet here we find a description of the offerings to be made based on the results of the census.

    There was a time, and the last vestiges still remain, when 'per capita' levies were made by church and other organisations, a time when, as per what it says in Exodus, rich or poor would be required to make the same absolute level of gift.  In some older churches memories remain of 'pew rents' (which to at least some degree predated 'free will offerings' as we now know them) with sometimes differential charges being made based on where a pew was located.  The fact that many churches fill up from the back may relate to the fact that the pews at the back were usually cheaper.

    Every year the Baptist Unions require member churches to submit a whole raft of numbers... formal membership, numbers of children, of young adults, of ethnic minorities, of people with disabilties and so on.  This data is meant to inform thinking on aspects of mission and evangelism, disicpleship, justice and so forth.  Whether we like to admit it or not, there are endless 'books of numbers' recording stuff about us.

    So interesting, to me anyway, to see just how far back this originates.

    Named Craftsmen

    In the course of the narrative, two craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, are named.  They are chosen by God to employ the gifts and skills uniquely theirs.

    Recently I read something online that ran roughly thus, "God looked at all that had been made, the stars and planets, the oceans and mountains, the plants and animals, and saw that it was wonderful... but something was still missing, so God made you because creation needed a 'you.'"

    The idea that God makes us with a purpose in mind has the potential to lead us to an unhelpful form of Calvinism that renders us as puppets in a cosmic play.  The idea that God has uniquely gifted each of us because each of us has the potential to add to the goodness, beauty, wonder, truth, justice, peace, etc. of creation, without predetermining what that might mean, is surely mind-blowing and wonderful?  Creation 'needed' a Catriona, with all her failings and faults, her insecurities and anxieties because she alone also had something unqiue and precious to contribute to the created order.  The same is so for you, for everone.

    Sometimes we feel desperately insignificant or hopelessly inadequate or probably both, but we are reminded as it says elsewhere "do not be afraid, for I have  redeemed you, I have called you be name, you are mine."

    I will never know the names of most people who read this stuff, but God does, and God has made each one with unique and essential qualities.

    The Sabbath - Again

    I have clearly never before read Exodus sufficiently closely to realise just how many references are made to Sabbath-keeping.  It almost feels as if this was written for me, with my tendency to workaholism.  A constant reminder that rest is needed.  A reminder that we have to work at not working, that Sabbath has to be consciously chosen, not drifted into or out of.

    Being forced to slow down for a few weeks has been, and continues to be, challenging.  Yesterday, for very good reasons, and mostly down to choices I've made, I was actively 'doing' stuff for twelve hours.  This is not a boast, it is a kind of confession, that for people like me it is actually easier to 'do' than to 'not do'.

    If nothing else has really struck me in the last fortnight, it is the centrality of Sabbath - something I really need to get my head around as I move forward and return to a more active life again.

    Two Tablets

    The chapter, and the section, ends with Moses receiving the two stone tablets.

    During my teens we would joke about Moses being handed a couple of aspirins because leading the Israelites was such a headache.  I guess nowadays children and teens will hear the words and automatically think of hand held digital devices... ipads or similar.  In a sense we've come full circle I suppose.

    The whole of the Law condensed into something that could be carried by an old man as he descended a mountain path through cloud.  Jesus said, more or less, "Love the LORD your God with all your mind, with all your  hearts, with all your soul and with all your strength.  And love you neighbour as you love yourself.  This is the Law and the Prophets, all the rest is commentary".

    Whatever the tablets may have looked like, and whatever was inscribed on them, these were the essentials for God's people to hold on to.  Small enough to be carried, fragile enough to be destroyed, significant enough to shape history... God's will entrusted to human hands.


    Moses will begin his walk down the mountain, but meanwhile we wait to see what happens next...

  • Apologies

    It is clear that my recent post regarding a sermon preached at The Gathering Place was deemed inappropriate and/or offensive by at least one reader.  I apologise for the offence caused and am willing to have 'real world' or 'email' conversations with anyone who feels that way.

    I contemplated writing a longer piece here, but feel that could make things worse. 

    All I will do is to remind you that this is clearly identified (in the left side bar) as a personal blog and I take responsibility for whatever I say, right or wrong, good or bad.  Opinions are my own, not those of the church or denomination.