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  • Counting Down to Zip the Clyde!

    In just over 24 hours this will be me - eek!

    This week I have been very much reminded why I am doing this, as yet another courageous who is part of our GABBies group completed her stage 4 cancer journey and passed into eternal rest. In the same week, two primary ladies completed their active treatment and 'rang the bell' (a tradition that has emerged in the last year or two), and five of us met with healthcare professionals to discuss the new screening standards for Scotland.

    Research, campaigning, support - each has its place, and all need money to enable them to achieve their aims.

  • One Extreme...

    This month I am attending two conferences for Baptist ministers, which could not be more different if they tried!

    Today I am heading of to St Andrew's, in Fife, for the Scottish Baptist Ministers' Conference which will be very male and very white.  In a fortnight I will be heading to IMC, Birmingham for a gathering of women Baptist ministers to make the centenary of ordination being possibl;e (at least in England and Wales) which will include several minority ethnic women, though the main speakers are all white.

    Each will be very different from the other, and each will bring its own joys and challenges.  In one context I am still a pioneer, an anomaly, a curiosity; in the other I am just one among many, though recognised as one of the 'history book' names (which I still find incredibly wierd! If only they knew... imposter syndrome)

    I look forward to catching up with friends in each venue, and to meeting new people.

    May each be a time of encouragement and growth.

  • Airport Prayer Room

    My journey to Rome involved more than a few last minute changes which resulted in me flying from Edinburgh via Madrid on an airline that has zero vegetarian options on its menu apart from Pringles crisps!

    Anyhow, I arrived at Edinburgh, after a taxi ride with three other people squashed into a private hire car, and, with time to spare before I could check in, sought the tranquility of the prayer room.

    Apart from an armed police officer putting his head round the door to see what I was up to (praying....) it was a true oasis of calm amidst the busyness of the airport.  And I thought the printed prayer, which was located next to the visitors' book, which I signed, was a good one.

  • Historically Significant...

    I visited the Colosseum in Rome with mixed feelings... I wanted to see it because it is historically significant, but I was very aware of what I was visiting - the scene of mass murder, mass execution of Christians and other 'criminals', animals starved so that they would fight to the death, and where losing gladiators could be spared or not based on an audience vote.  My fear was that what I would find would offend - and in some ways it certainly did.

    As an architectural structure, it is truly amazing.  As a historical 'document' it is vitally important.  The trouble is, despite plenty of good information to explain what it is, the majority of people there seemed to be unable, or unwilling, to 'read' it.  I couldn't help wondering how they would react were they to visit Auschwitz, or some other twentieth century site of human atrocity.

    To be very clear, I am not comparing the systematic extermination of around 11 million people by the Third Reich with the unnumbered executions and fights-to-the-death in Rome.  What I am struck by is touristisation (if such a word exists) that glibly overlooks the 'what' in the pursuit of a checklist visit and yet another grinning selfie (sometimes complete with 'thumbs up' or 'victory V sign').

    I stood quietly, looking down towards the hypogeum, where the accommodation of those condemned to die would have been - dark, dank, depressing.  I thought of St Perpetua and the other countless martyrs whose deaths were mere lunch-time entertainment for those wealthy enough to secure a good seat at a day's sport. I closed my eyes, and prayed the Lord's Prayer - something that for me is always a 'communion of saints' thing - and for a few moments escaped the hubbub of tourists on 'free entry' Sunday. These people were faithful to the end, and it is to them, and others like them, that I owe the faith I now name as my own.

    In a century from now, people will still visit Rome, and presumably do whatever, by then, is the equivalent of taking selfies. In a century from now, will people still visit Auschwitz, and if so, how will they behave?  Will we recapture the ability to 'read' historically significant place, or will they just become part of an ever lengthening checklist of 'must see' places for those who have the freedom and money so to do?

    Amidst the noise and activity, there was one, brief, moment that gave me hopeful pause... Looking across the arena, I spotted a simple, Roman, cross, erected to the memory of those who had died for their faith in this place. To me it spoke more than mere memorial, being a symbol of redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation and more.  For many visitors, it was just another opportunity for a selfie... but, in that way only God's grace can, my annoyance was transformed to deep, deep sorrow and a renewed determination to follow, as best I can, in the footsteps of Jesus - even when to do so is costly, at least in some small measure.

  • A Month of Sundays...

    This post is/was inspired by a visit to the Pantheon in Rome last Sunday, and the feelings that arose from observing the behaviour of people for whom this was merely a curiosity, a place to pose their small children for photos, an item checked off on a tourist itinerary.

    Sunday 20th May - Pentecost Sunday - an ecumenical celebration that saw two congregations come together to delight in the diversity of languages and cultures gathered together to worship God.  Our 'babble' of around fifteen languages being spoken simultaneously was, in fact, very beautiful rhythmic, and yes, worshipful.

    Sunday 27th May - Trinity Sunday - the long awaited baptism of five friends, again multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and again happy, celebratory and worshipful.

    Sunday 3rd June - Ordinary Time - and a visit to the Pantheon, a spectacular basillica in Rome, originally a temple to 'all the gods' and for centuries a Christian church.  And here, on a Sunday afternoon, people queued to go in, passing signs that asked them to cover up bare flesh, to switch off phones, not to use camera flash and to be silent... Precisely none of which were observed.  After about five minutes, the general hubub was interrupted by a very loud, recorded 'SHHHHHH.... SILENCE'. And, indeed there was silence, for about ten seconds, before tour guides resumed their explanations, tourists exclaimed delight at the design or the art, and many posed for selfies pointing to the occulus (huge circular hole in the dome, and only source of natural light) or arranged their small children artistically on the marble floor.  Another five minutes, and another recording, quieter, sequentially in many languages politely requested silence... and, it seemed, no one took any notice.

    Two distinct feelings arose within me.  One of annoyance, that people defied, or at least ignored, the expectations of attire, photography and quiet.  The other of realisation that most people there had no idea what this place was or how to read it.  When I joined others to sit on the wooden benches to reflect and to pray, we were a definite minority... Those who wished to be still, to admire the architecture or the art, to absorb the history, to pray to God or gods, to reflect, did so very deliberately amidst the babble.  All of which gave me much ongoing pause for thought.

    Sunday 10th June - tomorrow.  Back to the hotel room.  Back to preaching in an ordinary service. Happy for the return to what is familiar, looking forward to seeing people and worshiping alongside them. And changed, if ever so slightly, by the experiences of this month of Sundays.

    (Picture: Pantheon occulus; no flash (of course, I'm obedient!))