Wednesday, 29 February 2012

It is enough

I've been musing today on how, during what might be considered the waiting times in the Christian year, the seasons of Advent and Lent, preachers end up busier than ever. The discipline of creating space becomes more difficult, not less. Today, a beautiful spring like day, I rediscovered a park that is just a few streets away. It is clothed in a carpet of crocuses. That brief encounter provided real balm for the soul.
Finding space does not always involve having to find lots of time too.

sometimes all it takes
is a brief glimpse
a smile
a look of understanding
and then everything appears different
for then we have been assured
that God has it covered
and God's loving gaze
is focussed on us.
And that's enough
to sustain us 
on the journey.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Stop! In the name of love...

As I was explaining Lent to a group of primary school children this week, I talked of how Jesus, before he was famous, before he started teaching or healing or making miracles, went into the desert for 40 days. A lone voice piped up: "Why? "
Good question!
I explained that, sometimes, before we start out on something new, it's good to take time to think about it. Before we begin something important, it's good to work out how. Peace and quiet and space help us move forward.
We may not choose the desert or the wilderness as our space. We may prefer the beach or the forest - or even our own room, but we all need a Space that leaves the world behind and allows us to get things straight in our heads.
The call to repentance comes to us today 
to be embraced not as a once for all 
but as a discipline to be repeated 
time and again. 
In high seasons and in low 
in business and in quiet 
Finding wilderness spaces 
allows us to turn again 
to the God whom we lost  
in all the distractions that life presents -  
the God who looks into our eyes, 
tells us we are beloved children 
and then reveals a work that only we can do. 
God calls us to trek through the wilderness 
in preparation 
for striding through life focused on God's mission. 
Liz Crumlish Lent 2012

Monday, 27 February 2012

Valuing space

There are lots of discussions around the institutional church just now about the cost of ministry. Sadly, not the cost in terms of selfless giving, but the actual monetary cost of employing well educated, professional, comprehensively trained staff. The perception, fueled by insensitive comment and crass marketing is that cheaper alternatives are where it's at. Many colleagues are feeling undervalued, a burden the church can ill afford. Some of these effects are, of course, part of the natural processes of change and the church like any institution today is in a state of flux, though that might be hard to discern in many areas.
Change, as they say, is the only constant. But, in every time of change, careful discernment is required and, it would seem, it's that willingness to discern direction that has been overlooked as the institutional church plunges into its latest crisis. While opportunities are seized on, the more steady, careful discernment necessary to navigate a way through the turbulence is being compromised in the interests of a possible quick fix.
In this season of Lent, as we sojourn with Jesus in the wilderness, may we repent of our willingness to jump on the latest band wagon and, instead, squat in the dust of reality, prepared to wait it out until the grey becomes less blurred and the shadows come into focus.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Wondering about Lent

Our Chrismon tree that graced the sanctuary as we waited during Advent and then celebrated Christmas has been transformed into a cross that will accompany us through the wondering of Lent.
With all ages together, we explored Lent in worship this morning.
We removed the Alleluias from the church - everyone has taken one home and, hopefully, will bring them back on Easter Sunday!
And we baptised two little cousins.
A busy, fun service that got our worshipping community's journey with Jesus through the wilderness off to a good start.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Grace enough

As I watched the penguins being fed, I was struck by the joy of the gulls, swooping down to scoop up any stray fish.
The penguins didn't seem at all perturbed about sharing their food, probably because they know that there is plenty to go around.
Often God gives us more than enough to share but, still, we are reluctant to give as freely as we receive.
Even when material gifts are in short supply, God's grace is always enough.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Mirrors on the soul

I've been working with some of the Spill the Beans team again today. We're slogging through the chronicles of David from 2 Samuel, which feature in the Lectionary for the season after Pentecost. They are difficult, blood thirsty, shocking readings. A few times, we almost abandoned them to find something a bit more palatable but, being Scottish Presbyterians, we have that awkward work ethic and decided that we needed to stick with them. They are there for a reason and might teach us something - even if it is only to avoid adultery and rape and brutal slaying!!!
However, one theme that emerged is that of windows, mirrors and reflections. Each of the passages might lead us to looking deep within ourselves, to holding a mirror to our own lives to examine what lies within. And so, preaching through the summer will not be comfortable. But it will be revealing. God speaks, in so many ways, even using media we'd rather avoid. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


The very first time I offered an Ash Wednesday service in a Church of Scotland, I waited in fear and trepidation for cries of horror or complaints or, at the very least, a rejection of the offer. But folk came. Perhaps out of curiosity or for the novelty factor but they came and they had ashes placed on their forehead during worship. And, in the years since, I have continued to conduct Ash Wednesday worship. It is one of the most moving services of the year: The opportunity to share in that Lenten ritual with folk with whom I have journeyed the rest of the year, through joy and sorrow, through hardship and triumph, in the intimacy of a simple act, is fellowship and community bound up in the sacred. And the thought of Christians throughout the world witnessing to their faith on Ash Wednesday, for me, brings a poignancy that cannot be matched on Easter Sunday with our celebrations of the resurrection.
Ash Wednesday feels much more like where its at for people - in the nitty gritty nub of living. Remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return but ALSO turning from sin and living out the gospel. Both sides of that Ash Wednesday coin are at the crux of our faith. God gets down and dirty with people and spreads love - that IS good news. News we proclaim whether in the grey of ashes or the gold of resurrection.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash promise

The dark smudge on my forehead
feels dry and grainy.
Felt cool and damp as it was placed there.
Already it has changed
Remember you are dust
and to dust you shall return
Dry, sobering words
Very Scottish
Even Scottish Presbyterian
God forbid that any should forget
their humble beginnings
or equally humble, inevitable end
Summed up in a smudge of ash!
Sobering if that were all:
Remember that you are dust
and to dust you shall return.
But, there's more.
In those ashes
lies not just a salutary reminder
but an exhortation -
a call to turn from sin
and live out the gospel
an affirmation
that, from those humble beginnings,
we are called to great things
Turn from sin and live out the gospel
transforming the dirty smudge on my forehead
into an aspiration of service
changing its weight and import
into a sign of hope
that this ancient holy day ritual
still has import
In a world rushing on to the next thing
ashes become
symbols of love
carrying all the potential
to spread love
as the gospel is lived out
in ordinary people
in humble people
who don ashes
to change the world.

Liz Crumlish Lent 2012

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Mardi Gras!

Having visited New Orleans recently, I've been looking forward even more to Mardi Gras this year - or Pancake or Shrove Tuesday here in Scotland, when all the flesh will be shriven! (or something like that) in preparation for Lent.
I've been trying to explain Lent to school children and that has given me an excuse to share the masks brought back from NOLA and lots of other interesting insights gleaned on that trip. Because, although Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, Mardi Gras is just as important for ensuring that people are ready to observe Lent, by partying it up and then laying aside some of the excesses for the next 6 weeks. The colours of Mardi Gras, purple for justice, green for faith and gold for majesty and power are poignant symbols with which to enter Lent - justice, faith and power. I look forward to seeing how those play out as the tones of the festival die down, becoming a distant echo and as they weave their way in and around our Lenten observance. But, for today - Happy Mardi Gras!

Monday, 20 February 2012

A welcome return

I've had a ball the last month celebrating my 50th birthday. I've celebrated with different groups in different places, even in different parts of the world, also managing to raise £900 for charity in a celebration with the congregation. But one of the best birthday gifts came last week when I returned to work. I visited a lady who has just recently come to be part of our congregation. We had a nice time together. It was good to have a chance to talk with her and find out more about her and her family.
However, the next day she phoned me in a panic to enquire" was it you who visited me yesterday?" Apparently she'd been talking to a friend and had mentioned that the minister had visited and how young the minister was! Her friend, who is from another congregation in town, informed her that it couldn't have been her minister who visited because she had heard that I'd just celebrated my 50th birthday! The lady refused to believe that I was that age.
I reassured her that I had indeed visited and that I had just turned 50 but finished the call with a huge smile on my face. A great welcome back to work!

Friday, 17 February 2012

A slow burn for re-entry

The ship docks as the sun rises over Progresso in Mexico. It is a quiet ship at that time of the morning, just a few folk on the running track. The air is still, balmy, warm. A lovely time for reflection. One of the aims of this Continuing Ed is to write worship material for the season after Pentecost, so my head is filled with the texts, from Mark and John and, looking forward to the day ahead, the possibilities seem endless in this place where it is possible to be still and quiet, a place where the heat of the morning caresses and cajoles body, mind and spirit into wakefulness - far removed from the harsh Scottish winter left behind for a time. It is easy to imagine that, in such a climate, writing would be easier, creativity would be heightened but the reality is that we settle into whatever environment is our norm. We adapt, become restless and even yearn for the other, for the unknown. Such is our fickleness.
It was good and right and refreshing to be with the Revgals, constructing worship, enjoying fellowship, making connections, renewing friendships,creating networks, but what is life giving and life enhancing is when that experience pervades the routine of everyday back home in the grey dreichness of a Scottish winter as it percolates into springtime, whispering a reminder of newness and life, breathing the warmth of love shared and, preferably at inopportune moments, echoing the tinkling laughter shared with female colleagues who simply "get it". Such moments, such journeys shared, bring energy that enable survival in a harsher climate, a harshness created not just by the weather but by the calling to serve God in male dominated institutions in which the wiles of the Spirit are seldom given free rein for fear of upsetting order and propriety and in which the complementarity of" male and female as God created them" is seldom envisaged as a good thing but as a distraction from the real work of God. It takes a lot of energy to continue to be creative and inspired in such a climate, so, when the opportunity is available, one must enjoy the solidarity and drink deep from the well of affirmation. That time of building up has to be eked out, not rationed, but able to sustain for some time to come. So, as I leave behind my time of study leave and engage in the parish as we hurtle into Lent, I am giving thanks. Giving thanks, above all, for colleagues, male and female, who "get it". Giving thanks, right now for Revgals and Big Events!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Universal language

On every corner, it seemed, was another band, jamming for tips - just part of the magic of New Orleans. Just part of the magic of a people and a culture that understands the universality of music, a language that, with or without words, speaks volumes and crosses boundaries. And, in this city of resilience and tenacity, the music symbolises the heart of the people - embracing, hospitable, buoyant, unable to be quelled by external force, even the powerful forces of nature. A heart that reaches out and breathes an energetic beauty into living. A heart that exudes hope.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if such music and all to which it testifies were recognisable in the language of faith?
Three things last forever, faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.
(1Corinthians 13)

Monday, 6 February 2012

Bridge builders

The sun rose over this bridge in New Orleans, signaling that it was time to leave the cruise ship aboard which we had been engaged in some Continuing Education with a bunch of clergy women and friends. The women came from many different places, from many different denominations, with many different degrees of experience and wisdom. Infectious exuberance lay alongside careworn weariness. Tired spirits were buoyed up by unbridled optimism. Those just embarking on ministry rubbed along with those already retired. Each brought enough to share and more and all feasted on a rich smorgasbord of imagination and creativity. There was respectful listening and careful holding of confidences shared. This reflects the roots of the group - a supportive online web ring for women in ministry - and their friends. That so many shades of theology and opinion and character and strength can meet and feel valued and heard is no mean feat. Engineered by the God of all life - with a little (lot of) help from the board of the Revgalblogpals. Thanks be to God.

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