Thursday, 31 March 2011

On Holy Ground

Taking off our shoes can be such a liberating experience. Taking off our shoes can help us cool down. Taking off our shoes can help us really connect with the ground beneath our feet, the smooth and the rough. Taking off our shoes can bring relief. Taking off our shoes can bring abandon. Taking off our shoes can make us feel vulnerable OR powerful. So many possible emotions in one simple act.
Before embarking on our Lenten labyrinth, folk take off their shoes and soak up whatever the path offers them, a different journey every time. A journey made in the knowledge of Christ walking alongside, touching toes with us. A journey that has the potential for as many and more emotions as the simple act of taking off our shoes.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

What do you see?

Tonight, we are considering Sunday's gospel - Jesus healing a blind man in John chapter 9. We're reading verses 1-12 and glossing over all the theological minefields that question whose sin caused the man to be blind and, instead, asking a more basic but perhaps more profound question: What hinders us from seeing?  And - what would allow us to gain a different perspective?
Lent is a time for digging ourselves out of the ruts in which we've become entrenched so that we can encounter God and the world around us in a whole new way.
I've had lots of fun sourcing tonight's Lenten symbol - teeny, tiny eye glasses designed for dolls. We will carry them with us in the week ahead to remind us to take another look at all that God reveals.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The difference a day makes

This post comes late in the day because, feeling swamped by technology yesterday, I have had an internet fast for most of the day. Though I cannot claim to have deliberately chosen that - it was just the way the day worked - it has certainly proved restorative.
Half way through Lent, I have been reviewing the journey so far and harnessing energy for what is to come. It has been good to regain a sense of excitement as the gospel stories unfold and look forward to all the creative worship opportunities to come. Giving thanks for the opportunity to recover some stamina that will be required for the weeks ahead.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Full steam ahead?

Some days, don't you just long for things of the past?Like those easy, carefree days before the plague of mobile phones and email and IMs. Those days when you could go AWOL for hours on end with no one fearing that you'd been abducted by aliens. Those days when it was expected that you had some down time without it being construed as a sign of weakness or lack of dedication.
Maybe the discipline of Lent could become a tool for reclaiming some space and for educating those who expect unlimited access that their expectations may not- and should not - always be met.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Water from a rock

As I struggled to pull together a sermon last night, one of my revgalpals commented that we were meandering together in the Sinai desert. It was comforting to know that I wasn't alone- another benefit of an online community. The sermon eventually did come together and, as ever, spoke to me as much as to anyone else. Even in the driest of times and maybe especially when our resources seem exhausted, still there is life-giving spirit and depths to be plumbed. Lent allows us to wander through the desert and rediscover the water of life.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The freedom of presbyterianism

I shared with my RevGalPals how, when I moved from my conservative evangelical fellowship in which I had grown up to pursue a call to full time ministry in the Presbyterian church, I experienced an immense sense of freedom. That provoked a few guffaws of laughter. Sometimes the strictures of the Presbyterian church can feel pretty stifling. But, on the whole, it is a broad church where many different approaches to theology can co-exist and where people with many different views can rub along together. That breadth is probably what I value most in Presbyterianism.
It is my hope and prayer that, when threatened with hard decisions and the possibility of schism that we do not become exclusive and sacrifice the breadth that allows the Church of Scotland to be a place of welcome for all.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Responsibility in leadership

I love the term "blue sky thinking". I'm not sure that it has yet come to be hated as much in the church as it has in business circles. In the church, it is still a fairly new concept - a concept caricaturised by an abundance of marker pens and post it notes. I often lead sessions in which I encourage church governing groups to indulge in blue sky thinking though I do not call it that. Because the difficulty is that, once you label something, folk react to the label rather than the often helpful concept. And so, groups are busy indulging in blue sky thinking without being aware of it. Leadership involves a degree of subtlety and cajoling that isn't often named or embraced. It's easy to see then how leadership can be abused and corrupted and there are plenty of examples of that. But, in the case of blue sky thinking. leadership also involves encouraging groups to anchor their good ideas and to support them while they do that. Leaders require, therefore, to display commitment in ensuring that structures for long term support are in place after the blue sky thinking has been encouraged or we risk setting up hopes that will quickly plummet when they cannot be grounded and progressed.
Is it too sacreligious to imagine that, in the desert for 40 days, Jesus might have indulged in some blue sky thinking before emerging to change the world?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Caring and sharing

I enjoyed catching up with a colleague this morning. It's always good to offload a bit. As we sat basking in sunshine in her conservatory, I could hear a fog horn blasting away. Just a few minutes down the road, at the harbour, the fog was quite eery. That contrast - clear skies and fog almost side by side - struck me as typical in ministry. One never knows what will happen next and what will be expected of us. That makes it all the  more important that, intentionally, we support each other and seek ways to share the load.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Water of life

It was an immense privilege to attend a friend's service of ordination to ministry of word and sacrament tonight. As Tanya made her vows, her face beaming with joy, I was transported back some 17 years to that point in my journey. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but still the wonder and joy of being called to love and to serve God's people is undiminished. It's a huge undertaking but one constantly resourced and underpinned by one who brings the life-giving water. Even in the desert times that afflict us all at some point in the journey, a spring can be found to bring renewal and refreshment. In every desert may we find springs of living water.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Cradled by God

Shoes, abandoned by wedding guests as they made their way to the beach for photographs.
The joy with which they were abandoned in stark contrast with images of children's shoes abandoned in Japanese schools shown on last night's news - shoes of a lost generation of youngsters.
10 days on from the earthquake and tsunami, still details are only emerging of the scale of loss and devastation and with fears of further radiation danger, it seems we may never know the real toll of the disaster. Only God knows.
However, witnessing this scale of loss, wouldn't you think that we'd grasp how precious human life is and cease from war?
Even if a mother should forget her own child, I will never forget you. How can I forget you. I have written your name on the palm of my hand.
Isaiah 49:15,16

Monday, 21 March 2011

Through the cracks

Giving thanks today for serendipitous encounters.
Whilst a carefully planned diary may maximise effective time management, it is so often the spontaneous, unplanned meetings that make a difference and leave a sense of achievement and fulfillment. I'm reminded of how often Jesus' ministry consisted of interruptions and how it was in those unplanned encounters that Jesus was most often able to display love and achieve miracles. At our busiest, it is always important to have just enough room for spontaneity. And to see God at work in those spaces filled with opportunity.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

More difficult than it seems

On sunday mornings we are sojourning with the Old Testament lectionary readings. This morning, we started out with Abram who, at the age of 75, was called by God to go on a journey. It struck me how often, from the beginning of Abe's story we are told of how he built an altar or communed with God. His journey was peppered with prayer.
In church this morning we attempted making doves out of paper doilies. The idea was we would keep them with us during the week so that, when world news gets us down, we could remember to lift up in prayer all those suffering throughout the world. However, what I thought were simple instructions flummoxed a lot of people. I'm so glad we didn't attempt origami Japanese cranes!
We did get the message, though, that when things are so difficult, when things are as out of control as they are throughout the world right now, in our helplessness, it is vital that we keep on praying.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


It's only a week since I was glued to news reports coming out of Japan, appalled by the horror of the ravages of earthquake and tsunami. Still there are heart wrenching stories and pictures emerging and a tense holding of breath, waiting to see if nuclear disaster can be averted.
We also wait to see if air strikes will begin in Libya, escalating the probability of civil war raging out of control there.
All through the Middle East, anti government protests are attracting violent response.
And, meantime, the cholera epidemic in Haiti rages on with no end in sight except death and destruction.
And these are just the stories that are still barely making it into the headlines of our news media. Many other crises and atrocities have long since disappeared from the world news stage and, often, from our consciousness.
How can one keep up? How can one pray intelligently?
How tempting it is to take a fast from the news.
I'm sure that even in the midst of all these heart wrenching stories there are glimpses of hope, of heroic actions, of human love triumphing against the odds.
But the overwhelming picture is of mayhem and suffering and despair.
So how can we, who believe in a God of love and light, who believe in a God who is present wherever there is suffering, speak hope into such relentless chaos?
Especially when we are feeling particularly overwhelmed by the emerging news even at the privileged distance we maintain?
And yet, if we had no hope, if we lacked that inkling of a God who can turn things around, that notion of a God who brings order out of chaos, wouldn't we have stopped watching and listening already?
If we had no hope, already we would be preparing for our own demise and closing our eyes and ears to all that afflicts our brothers and sisters in this thing that we call the human race.
But God, who plants a seed of the godhead deep within each of us, plants a flicker of hope and of love by which we can remain involved, retain hope and know that our God, through us, reaches out, lifts up and redeems a broken, battered and bruised world.
All is not lost.
For a moment we are overwhelmed.
But God, living in us, binds up humanity in love.
In that wilderness space that Lent invites us to inhabit, may we rediscover the seed of the godhead deep within us that allows us to love and to care and to hope anew.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Kindling love

I LOVE my Kindle. I rarely go anywhere without it. It is a great travelling companion but versatile in so many other ways too. Today, I wanted to quote from a blog post in a school assembly so I simply emailed the post to my Kindle and was then able to share it with the school. I use it to preach from. I email files to it (or upload them) and take it to meetings (such as Presbytery). This saves paper and has the added advantage that, if things get a bit boring, I can continue to read whatever gripping book I'm currently taken with. I use it at gravesides, at weddings....The list goes on.
Did I say? I LOVE my Kindle.
Today I received a book to review Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James. There will be a blog post on it as soon as I've read it! But not only was the book sent to me in printed form - it is also a hardback. It seems like a real chore to read a book in hardback printed form. I may well download it in Kindle form since I have discovered that it is available.
But I recall being quite sceptical of the whole idea of e-books when I first encountered it. I thought that nothing could ever replace a printed text.
It's incredible how soon we can get used to doing things in a new way or to using new forms of media. But only if we open ourselves to change.
May part of our Lenten journey involve us taking steps into unfamiliar territory and embracing new ideas.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

In Christ there is no real or virtual...

I had an interesting discussion with a friend today about community: My friend had made a friend request on Facebook to which she has had no response. Pondering this, it dawned on her that, though she knows a lot about the person she has asked to befriend because she follows her blog, she has rarely encountered this person in real life.
Last month I travelled across the world to meet up with women whom I had only previously encountered online but with whom I had experienced real community. Why? Because we shared our stories and supported one another virtually.
At the Revgals meet up, one quote which has become my mantra is: "In Christ there is no real or virtual.." a slight paraphrase of Galatians 3! All are one. We underestimate the power of online communities at our peril. Christ journeys with us in the wilderness of the worldwide web. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Countering evil with love

snake in the water
In our midweek Lenten service tonight, we're looking ahead at Sunday's gospel - John 3:1-17. This passage contains that well known verse - For God so loved the world...
But I want to focus on the Serpent being lifted up in the wilderness (verse 14) and ask:
Where, in our lives, do we raise Christ today?
In our homes?
In our places of work?
In our communities?

As ever, when something devastating happens, there are those who speculate on the actions of a harsh, judgmental, vindictive God.
Today, more than ever, we need to speak of and share the incredible love and grace of God by lifting up Christ wherever we are. We cannot and should not ever cease to share the message that God IS love because so many folk are hearing, even in churches, messages to the contrary.
This Lent, may we lift up the God of love.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Small cost

I often find myself inwardly chafing at some of the restrictions I feel my job places on me: there is an expected dress code to be adhered to; I cannot get my VW bug covered in hippy flowers - that would look undignified in a funeral cortege that I often find myself part of; minor complaints like that.
When I was in Cozumel with the Revgals two weeks ago, I had my hair braided and enjoyed the exotic feel of that as well as the reminder of a special time with a super bunch of women. While I had the audacity to conduct Sunday worship with the braids still in place, I knew that they would be inappropriate when it was time to conduct a funeral service. So, I removed them last night in preparation for a funeral today.
Throughout the day, my hands kept reaching for my hair, before I would remember that the braids were no longer there.
It seemed like a sacrifice I had had to make for the job.
However, as I watched the news this evening and caught up on reports from Japan, reports of hundreds of bodies being washed ashore, of crematoria unable to cope with the task required of them, I reflected on the luxury of the quiet, dignified service I had been able to share with a grieving family today. And I gained a new awareness of the incredibly small demands that God makes of me. As well as the awareness, I pray that I have also gained a new sense of joy and thankfulness for the ministry to which God calls me. And I pray fervently for all those who seek to minister to those bereaved by earthquake and tsunami and for those who may never know what became of their loved ones.
May perspective be a part of our Lenten discipline.
God in your mercy, hear my prayer.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Gadget fast

Can't get blogger to upload a picture tonight - Technology!!! So frustrating sometimes.
In the primary school this morning, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the children knew about Lent. And amazed at how many of them are giving up some of their technology for the season - Nintendo Wiis, DSs, XBoxs and the like. 
But what was even more surprising was the maturity with which they explained the purpose of their "giving up" - so that they could spend more time with friends and family.
Fasting for fasting's sake helps no one. But relationships can always benefit from some investment.
Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to add a photo - unless I have a computer fast!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The things we fail to notice

This morning we celebrated all age worship for Lent. I wasn't sure how, with all ages together, to bring in the tragedy of the Earthquake and tsunami in Japan which has affected such a large part of our world this week. But, after putting away the alleluias, we read the account in Genesis of the Garden of Eden and reflected on  God's creation of and care for all creatures. We celebrated that God knows our name by writing our names on paper with glue sticks and then dipping the paper in sand and laying them on the chancel. The result was a colourful display of names and a remembrance that God knows well the names of all those affected by the ravages of the earth, especially in Japan today.
The congregation always amaze me by their willingness to get out of their seats and join in symbolic actions.
It wasn't until I uploaded the pictures taken after the service that I noticed that the names were carefully sorted into different colours for each side - red and yellow on one side and blue, green and orange on the other. For a moment I thought the children had sorted them and then I realised that it was just how I'd distributed the pack of coloured paper between each side of the church.
In the thick of things, sometimes, we miss the detail and it's good to be able to go back and reflect and gain a new awareness. The discipline of Lent affords that opportunity.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A messy garden

Tomorrow's Old Testament reading tells the story of Adam, the first man and Eve, the first woman being tempted by the serpent to disobey God - and of them giving in to that temptation. And of God reacting badly to their disobedience by sending them out of the garden. It is one of those stories that folk learn early on if they are going to learn any Bible stories. But what do we make of it? And this weekend, in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and the resultant Tsunami, how can we square the notion of an angry, distant God with the God of love whom we proclaim in church? Wouldn't a loving God intervene to avert tragedy on  a personal and global scale?Wouldn't a God of love take better care of creation? Wrap us up in cotton wool and protect us?
The question is - what kind of God do we want to believe in - the magical kind who directs operations from afar, keeping us safe by strait jacketing us? Or a God who deals with REAL life who supports creation through every tragedy and, in the face of disaster is the one shedding rivers of tears for the creation so beloved of God.
The God who keeps a rosy garden or the God who dwells in a messy garden?

Friday, 11 March 2011

What is important

Midweek services are, for me, an opportunity to experiment in worship. As I was putting together services for Lent, trying to ensure that the folk who come to the midweek services will experience a real sense of going on a journey, with Jesus, from the wilderness to the cross (another sort of wilderness),  a journey that cannot be rushed or even neatly packaged, a journey that has to be lived, I was reminded of these words of Henri Nouwen's, about what, in the end, is important:

I found this out myself this afternoon when I went apple picking with Janice, Carol, Adam, Rose and their assistants. MY attitude was to get the apples picked, put them in bags and go home. But I soon learned all of that was much less important than to help Rose pick one or two apples, to walk with Janice looking for apples that hang low enough so that she herself can reach them, to compliment Carol on her ability to find good apples, and just to sit beside Adam in his wheelchair under an apple tree and give him a sense of belonging to a group... Efficiency is not the most important word - care is.
(Road to Daybreak p28)

May there be space in our Lenten journey to discover more care than efficiency and to experience and value the journey as well as the destination.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

An inappropriate Lent?

I am excited about Lent this year. I have enjoyed creating liturgies and thinking of symbols that might aid our journey. Excitement doesn't feel like a seemly emotion for this particular season. Or is it? Lent begins with putting ash on our foreheads, reminding ourselves of our humble beginnings and similarly humble endings. But there is much life to be celebrated in between. Lent also involves, in some traditions, putting away the alleluias - something unthinkable in other traditions! But does that mean that we cannot yet celebrate? There are plenty of other words just as uplifting as alleluia!
These symbols are just that - symbols. They help us mark the movement through the liturgical year. They don't straitjacket us into feeling or thinking a particular way. Indeed the familiarity of some of the symbols of our faith and worship should free us to be aware of new things that God reveals to us. And if God is leading us in exciting paths, our response has to be in step. God is not bowed down by our traditions, so why should we be?
May Lent be a time when even tradition cannot stop the mischievous bubbling up of God's Spirit in you.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Ashes and bread

We shared ashes and bread tonight. As the sign of the cross was painted on our forehead with the commission to "Go and live out the gospel", we acknowledged God's forgiveness and call to repentance (in that order). As we pledged our desire to journey with Christ through the wilderness we celebrated God's nourishment by sharing food for the journey - the body and blood of Christ. Ashes and bread - a wonderful start to Lent.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Right where we are

It's always hard getting back into a routine after a break. Especially a break filled with the wonderful company of fun loving sister preachers.
I love the discipline of looking back over each day and finding the God-filled moments that were in it - before we rush on to the next day - The Daily Examen of Ignatian Spirituality.
So, in the midst of picking up the threads again and as we prepare for the marathon that is Lent, it is refreshing and life giving to discover the bits of paradise that exist right where we are.
In the Cayman Islands or in Scotland, in the Gulf of Mexico or in the desert, God allows us to glimpse paradise and provides nourishment for our journey.
May your Lenten discipline allow you to glimpse the presence of God accompanying you on your journey.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Refreshing optimism and traveling mercies

I always find the customs and immigration process daunting when I visit the USA. I suppose the officials are trained to be suspicious but I usually feel like a criminal. On this visit, however, the guy picked up on my nerves and asked why I was worried. I explained that I was on my way to meet up with 40 folk whom I'd never met before on a Continuing Ed Cruise. When he discovered that these "strangers" were women preachers, he beamed and assured me I had no need to fear. Of course he was right but I'm wondering how many women preachers he's met? 
On the domestic flight between Newark and Tampa, the passenger in the next seat caught sight of what I was reading: Reframing Hope by Carol Howard Merrit, the text for the course, and asked if I was a Christian. No sooner had I affirmed this than she asked me to pray with her. Just two glimpses of God at the beginning of a God-filled week.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Coming down from the mountain

Not preaching this week since I've just returned from study leave and didn't want to have to prepare while I was away. But the lectionary text - the account of the Transfiguration from Matthew touches a cord. How do we interpret and respond to those life changing moments in our lives? And how do we preserve that sense of sacredness or otherness that is present in such moments?
It would seem that our mountain top experiences are often closely followed by a harsh re-entry - down to earth with a bang.
Jesus taught and shared so that his disciples might be sustained in all of life and might have confidence to navigate the highs and lows that are the reality of life, secure in the knowledge that, in God, we are equipped and resourced and renewed every day. We cannot remain on the mountain but we can remain changed, enriched and renewed by all that is revealed to us in the presence of a transforming God.

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