Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Where is the love?

Christians should be revolutionaries. Our entire faith starts with a change of mind and a change of path to a new direction. We are new creations; old things have passed away and new things have come (2 Cor. 5: 17). The gospel itself is all about transformation—change. We should be the ones bringing a revolution of heart to the world. Instead, we spend our time debating theological stances, moral codes, and political issues.(Neil Cole: One Thing: A Revolution to Change the World with Love)

Recently, at a conference on Re-imagining the Reformation, I felt shallow when asked to define the most important element for reformation in the church today. Most folk made profound theological statements while I said, simply, that reformation arose out of love - when we love folk enough to want to change, beginning with ourselves.
Today, as I listened to a debate on future patterns of ministry in the Church of Scotland, I was again struck by the necessity and vitality of love. Until we love one another we cannot grow together. Love is what will see us through the difficult work of changing patterns and mindsets that are no longer serving God's kingdom
Yes, it calls for radical action.
Yes it calls for a review of education and ministry formation.
Yes it calls for new ways of working together, with God in God's mission.
But if we do not first learn to love one another, we cannot move forward with whatever new ways God reveals.
Often the most wounding encounters in ministry are with colleagues.
If stating the obvious and stripping things down to basics makes me shallow or makes me sound like a hippy, then those are charges I will gladly accept.
We've also heard a lot about getting back to basics and rediscovering ancient paths.
Form Jesus' command to love one another to Paul's pronouncement that the greatest of these is love, we have a gospel imperative and an apostolic encouragement to seek out love - in all things. Even in reshaping church for today.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

God on the beach

In a wee deserted corner of the beach
nestled among rocks 
that are drying out 
in the setting sun, 
with the tide on its way out
the waves lapping in their comforting rhythm
disturbed only by the cry of gulls
and the sound of clubs hitting golf balls 
on the course just above the beach
I hunker down and wait for God
And God is there -
Already awaiting my invitation 
to sit by me 
and help me unjumble 
the crazy mess of emotions 
jumping around in my head 
and the medal worthy acrobatics 
tugging at my heart
Your kingdom come
Your will be done, O Lord
Just tell me where I fit in,
where I belong
What is your call 
and your gift to me in this moment?
As the sun sinks behind the hills
I wander back the way I came
not with an answer
but with a peace
and renewed affirmation
I am where I need to be right now
and the rest will be revealed
in God's own time.
Your kingdom come
Your will be done, O Lord.

Thursday, 5 May 2016


Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (Like 21:12)
It's not often these days that I get to consecrate bread and wine and serve communion to others - so that makes it all the more special (for me) when I do. I celebrated with colleagues this morning.
It was only after the service that I realised that today is the day we celebrate Ascension.
I'm still in Easter - and I want to stay there.
I want to linger with Jesus on the beach in all his post resurrection woundedness and vulnerability.
I want to hear more of his teaching, more of his affirmation. I want to share food with him, physically and spiritually. I want to hear him call me, knowing all my weaknesses. I just want to sit awhile at his feet, hang out, soaking up his wisdom.
But today is a day to step up and to step into the role to which Jesus calls and commissions. To step out, not alone, but in all the companionship he offers, surrounded by the Spirit that he leaves to empower and equip.
Acts 1:8-11
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Ascension is a day to leave the beach behind and walk the road in the wake of Christ, called, equipped, sent.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Tender moments

John 13:12-15

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

I've been blessed, recently, with a scattering of "tender moments" that serve to console and affirm.
Moments that somehow mop up the rivers of loss and begin to soak into a new terrain, making the ground seem more familiar, the landscape less scary.
Conversations that demonstrate careful listening from another. 
Encounters in which I've been held in love.
And personal growth and understanding that signal conviction and calling.
Whether virtual or face to face, these moments are life giving, God-filled spaces that provide some solid ground amidst all the floundering.
To be really listened to - and not just in the gap while another prepares to speak is a gift beyond price.
To be held as a confidant and a counsellor when it seems that for so long I have loitered on the fringes feels like a warm embrace.
And to know God using these teaching moments to pour love and understanding, calling forth courage and conviction brings healing and blessing.
For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Evocative or prophetic?

Walking down past the golf course to the beach this morning, I was assailed by the smell of the gorse bushes, that coconut-like tang that mingled with the sea breeze, awakening my senses and stirring my soul. And as I inhaled the scent I was transported back in time - right back to a memory of a day when I was 11 years old:
I was walking home from primary school on my own. My older brother was already in secondary school and my twin brother and my younger sister were attending a brand new school that had been built nearer us while I completed my final year of primary school in a school further from home. (Shock, horror, I probably walked a round trip of 3 miles every day!)
As I walked past similar gorse bushes that day, I decided to stop for a moment, to savour the freshness, to revel in the alone time and to thank God, whose nearness I sensed in that moment.
I probably didn't know the term "introvert" then, but I did know that I needed to carve out space and time to get away from people and sit by God's side.
That moment this morning, reminded me that, while, today, I am called to journey in faith with people, in sometimes very full-on ways, I still need the restorative time alone with God who feeds my soul and who nurtures my spirit, the God who leads beside the still waters (or the gorse).
The signs were there early on - and they still are!

Friday, 22 April 2016

The school gate

When our children were small, (aged 8 and 3), we moved from town life to village life when I accepted a call to parish ministry. As soon as the call was confirmed, I began a conversation with the village school about the childrens' education. And so it was, that for 6 weeks before the move, I was transporting my son to his new school. By the time I took up my post in the local parish church I had hung about at the school gate, meeting other parents, picking up on the local gossip, gauging the pulse of the neighbourhood and had already begun to form relationships within the community. My role then allowed me to deepen and develop those relationships begun at the school gate, as I moved around the neighbourhood, on the streets, in the pub and at the village shop. Perhaps it is no surprise that my ministry there was always more affirmed and accepted by those in the neighbourhood than by those in the church.
Fast forward 15 years and, once more responding to God's call, we have recently moved to a new neighbourhood. This time we do not have the school gate initiation process. Nor do I have a public role in ministry in this community. How does one form relationships and find a sense of belonging in a new place? How does one find the points of connection? Attending one of the local churches has helped, as has spending time in the (many) local coffee shops, walking along the promenade and shopping in the local stores. It's a much slower process, exacerbated because my work takes me away for long days, but there are signs of the beginnings of belonging - occasional conversations with regular dog walkers, a welcome by staff at my favourite coffee shop, recognition in the grocery store, life giving signs that begin to soothe my disorientation. 
The sense of not belonging has come as a painful surprise for me in this move, a soreness that has chafed and eroded part of my being.  But it has also given me helpful insight into an experience that is surely common for many people who move around for whatever reason. And so I continue to discover and explore and, hopefully, in time, intentionally or otherwise, create those places of connection and belonging for me and for others as we grow into this neighbourhood - where surely God is.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Protestant Reflections

John 6:66-68
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Along with a colleague, I've just spent a few days at a conference in Wittenberg: Re-imagining Protestantisms.
Before I left Scotland, someone asked:"Why Protestantisms?" Why plural?
Being here, among such a diverse group of people has revealed some of why Protestantisms is an accurate term. There is no one picture that describes Protestantism in Europe , far be it in the rest of the world.
Most of the conference speakers and participants are involved, at some level, in Pioneering, Renewal or Fresh Expressions of church - diverse, multi-hued and multi faceted responses to our culture today. All of these initiatives are directions of travel that encourage us to redefine the basic tenets of faith, to rediscover what is important about our faith, what it is we want to share with others and to constantly remind ourselves of Why the gospel is good news today.
Here, in the city where Luther nailed his 95 theses, from where Reformation spread across the world, I've been struck by the pastoral impetus of his protest - a protest against people being exploited by religious authorities and I'm pondering the causes that might unite us in protest today. Of course there are many possibilities but,once again, it is likely that we will be informed, not by the institutions but by those on the margins.
Stefan Paas reminded us that renewal does not come without struggle and pain. 
Are we up for that kind of reformation in the church today?

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