Saturday, 12 May 2018

What do you want?

Mark 10:46-52
The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus, asking of a blind man, what he really wants. Not starting with a list of options, not detailing what might be available or possible, but asking, "What do you want?"
In a church planting seminar this week, I was reminded of how often, what we offer, starts with church.
And, for many in our communities, that's a bridge too far to cross. When we in the church imagine how the future might look, it inevitably looks very much like church as we know it. We set the bar of membership and discipleship so high that few are able to attain it when what we see Jesus modelling is invitation, alongsideness, and acceptance of the curious.
But, more than that, it is hard for us to imagine what might be a culturally relevant alternative, often because we're so caught up and exhausted by trying to service and sustain what we know.
I'm grateful that many of the colleagues I've been working with over the last few years have often been able to reflect and articulate in a Star Trek parody: "This is church - but not as we know it!"
Those practising Asset Based Community Development, those hanging out with the marginalised, those who are freeing up time for discernment, those who are being released to listen carefully to the call of the Spirit as she whispers through the long grass in the open spaces, those uncultivated edges of community, are discovering hidden and fertile places where seedlings are struggling but are tenacious.
So how might we learn to really step outside of church, to stop attempting to cajole folk to be like us and, more than that, realising what an alien minority we are, be willing to rediscover what kingdom work looks like today? And to regain confidence in those abundant gifts with which God equips us to do just that?
And how might we support one another in our varied and different callings rather than set up the sexy new innovations and experiments against the inherited model of church that still bears fruit?
How can we get beyond those who would silence the curious before they even get the chance to approach Jesus? In the encounter with Bartimaeus, Jesus stood still, heard the cry of Bartimaeus through the noise of the crowd all around and then invited Bartimaeus to voice his longing. Restoring his sight, he welcomed him as a disciple, a willing learner along the way.
This is a time for us to hear, through the clamour of all the noise around, the voice of those relegated to the periphery AND to hear the voice of Jesus calling us, asking us, "What do you want?" And then, healed in faith, to rediscover how we are called to be disciples, learning new things as we follow, companions of Jesus and of one another. Engaged in Kingdom Work together, starting, not with church, but with Christ.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Pruning the things we love.


John 15:1-2
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

Last weekend was finally warm enough for us to spend a good chunk of time in our garden. We just moved house last November, so it's been mainly winter in the garden. It's only now that we're beginning to discover what else is there, slowly emerging from the cold or soggy ground. I discovered a herb garden that the previous occupants of the house had planted. It's pretty overgrown but, with some pruning and care, it will be a wonderful addition to our kitchen.

I was sharing with other ministers this week the notion that, sometimes, we have to lay down or stop doing things we love - because it is what God requires of us. It's not that those things are not important - or even fruitful. Rather, it is that God is requiring of us something else for this day. And God knows that is not easy and not without pain.
As ever, I also found that I was preaching/ speaking of something that I needed to learn again and remember. Almost three years on, I still feel keenly the loss of being a parish minister. That is still an open wound among all the good things that have come with this new work that God requires of me. Grounding that in the context of the vine and the branches helps not to lessen the pain so much as to bring the reminder and the reassurance of God's pruning along the way, taking us well beyond the places we love or are comfortable, even where we are making a difference - to be engaged in the Mission of God today. Pruning is painful, particularly when what we have to prune is still bearing fruit, but it is essential in the work of the garden and in the work of the kingdom in every season.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Midwife and Palliative Care Specialist


Isaiah 43:19
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
As a hospital chaplain, the two areas I spent most time in were the Maternity Unit and the Palliaive Care Unit.
As one life was being propelled into the world or as another was ebbing slowly  out of it, I was often called to be present, to wait quietly, with nothing to bring except my presence in beginnings and endings.
Sometimes, in the maternity unit, new life emerged in a wail of protest, sometimes it slipped in calmly, with a sense of timeless wisdom.
And, two floors away, death oft times withstood raging and protest and, other times, snuck in with hardly a murmur.
In the ministry to which I am called today, I often find myself tiptoeing through those sacred spaces of life and death, of birthing and dying. And, once more, I am not sure that I bring much more than a quiet affirming presence. And, having learned in the stark corridors of the hospital environment, the value of that calm accompaniment, I seek to focus, not on the impotence but on the vitality of persistent non anxious presence.
As the church struggles with the throes of death and in the places of new birth, our call requires the gifts of midwifery and of practitioners in palliative care, letting go of one way to take hold of another in the calm assurance that the God of all life invites and inspires us to bring about good death and to make room for new life, sometimes at one and the same time.
Unless we are prepared to sit with death we have no right to expect to welcome new life.
Birthing the new requires letting go,of the old and taking care of the tasks of grief as we do that.
Resurrection demands that we position ourselves by the empty tomb, in prime position to witness new life when it comes.
Midwifery and palliative care - skills required in ministry today.

Friday, 2 March 2018

A right perspective

As I sit looking out at the snow in Londom, in an overcrowded airport lounge, hoping for a flight home today, I'm trying to regain a sense of perspective. 
I'm warm and dry. I have coffee! I have a mobile phone and tablet and can speak to loved ones and catch up with work. I'm also in my own country, albeit south of the Scottish border!!!
This is not the experience of many, in their normal, everyday life, never mind in this snow caused chaos.
And I'm drawn back to these words that I've come to know as the Isaiah vision: 
Isaiah 65:21-22
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

We pay more attention to refugees or to those sleeping on our streets in extremes such as the last few days, yet tolerate it all the other days. Suddenly the homeless are newsworthy!
Of course there are no easy solutions. Injustice is convoluted and complex and the vulnerable are always the ones who suffer most. But I'm trying to dial back on my first world frustration and regain a sense of perspective on what, in the end, is a mere inconvenience.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Belonging


For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert 
Isaiah 35:6
It's been an inspiring few days at NEXTCHURCH 2018, a gathering of leaders mainly from the Presbyterian Church USA.
Probably the most affirming aspect, for me, was a sense of belonging. Belonging with people who welcome and are prepared to embrace the new thing that God is doing in the world today - and the implications that has for church. Belonging with those who are re-imagining church for today. Belonging with those who value ministry in all its varied forms and who welcome creativity. Belonging with those who are not threatened by others who are called to non traditional forms of ministry. Belonging with those who value the support of an institution and who are not afraid to challenge that institution about its priorities. Belonging with those who are hopeful and encouraged about God's purpose and vision for church today - and who gathered to tell their stories, to share their pain, to listen to God and to one another, to acknowledge that this work in which God invites us to participate is hard and that makes it all the more important that we support one another in it. Belonging with those who believe that the desert will bloom.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Welcome

I spent yesterday travelling - from Glasgow to Lomdon and then from Heathrow to Baltimore USA. Some 17 hours travelling!
After clearing Passport Control and Customs, it was such a relief to see familiar faces right at the place I exited the clearing hall.
One of the questions I was asked by Homeland Security at Baltimore airport was: "How do you know these friends you are visiting in the USA?" That wasn't the time to go into an explanation of how Martha and Kathryn had been part of my supportive online community for the past 10 years. Or of how I first met them in real life by a hotel pool in Florida right before we went on one of the RevGalBlogPals Continuing Ed cruises. I just said that I knew them from church - which is also true.
But, as I enjoy hospitality here and participate in the PCUSA Next Church Conference, I give thanks for these and the other women who have been supportive through all the ups and downs of ministry. Women who simply get what it means to be a woman in ministry and to lead in a patriarchical institution with all the peculiar challenges that that presents.
And I give thanks for the grace to receive and extend hospitality to one another in person and virtually in the name of Christ.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Identity and Subversion

I've been reflecting on and writing about identity quite a bit since changing roles in the church. Too often, who we are becomes confused or subsumed by what we do.
It has been an affirming challenge to recover and live into my identity as a beloved child of God and to resist the, sometimes but not always, well meaning intentions of those who try to define or label others, stipulating how identity should be lived out. Well meaning phrases, like "You just need too..." or "You could always..." or "you should..." abound as well as paternalistic directives that one comes to expect in the church.
A huge part of my identity is subversion. Working in a male dominated and very patriarchal institution, one has to be fairly creative about how to get things done. I've always been one to demonstrate how something might work rather than argue  the toss. And so subversion has become a healthy, sanity saving part of my identity. 
The new role I fulfil in the church, encouraging others to think outside of the box, to reimagine church, the Mission of God and the call to discipleship has been a thrilling journey that involves accompanying others in transition as we each discover and/or recover our identity in Christ and respond to God's call for today.
Recently, however, in the hierarchical institution, some colleagues sought to shut down such creativity and, in particular, my ability to process and reflect on transition and transformation - something I often do through writing.
The thing is, that attempt to shut down was partially successful:
Whilst their opposition, based on their insecurity and inappropriately garnered authority, gave me a determination to "get on with the job", to let the results speak, it also had the effect of silencing me in large measure.
And now I am struggling to recover that voice, particularly in writing, even writing about the difference my role makes.
It was only as I reviewed my spiritual practices recently that I realised how much the discipline of writing had become absent.
That's how insidious paternalism and patriarchy is, particularly in the church- its damage creeps in, restricting and destroying in myriad ways. The fight never ends, though one may tire of it.
And those who perpetuate patriarchy remain oblivious or, worse, convinced of their good intentions.
Subversion may go some way to dismantling the patriarchy but so too will the practice of continually calling it out.
I guess it's time to find my voice again!

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