Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Midweek Musing: on peace.

It's International Day of Peace. The musing this week is my version of a Scottish story of peace. 

More about the (in)humanity stories.

I tell stories to encourage us all to seek peace with the love and courage of people such as Magnus of Orkney. If you would like to help me do this, become a patron today.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Midweek Musing: on friendship

Some time back I recorded a video for a worship event. In the end, it wasn't used - time, changing ideas - but it has come to mind with the visit of friends to Edinburgh, friends both individually and as part of the collaborative friendship I have with Blackwood Uniting Church in Adelaide.

20 years of friendship. We had laughed over a joke, then realised, yes, we have been friends for about 20 years. Members of the same community of faith (although I have been by distance for a while), we have prayed together, sung together, laughed and dreamed and mourned together.
Early on, there was a road trip to Melbourne for a music and worship workshop weekend. Over the years there has been affirmation and encouragement in the various ways we offer our gifts to the community - my ordination, her stepping back for a season - conversations of openness and friendship. Now, she is a champion for me as a ministry project for our community of faith, encouraging their support for one of their own, gathering them around me so that I am not alone.
Friendship with a community of faith includes the specific and particular friendships between individual members. This one has ebbed and flowed, as friendships do; in this moment, I am glad to remember and give thanks for the collective friendship with Blackwood Uniting Church, and with its individual members.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Midweek Musing. Finding the way, together, as always.

In recent weeks – months even – I have been exploring my options for enabling my final year of the PhD program here in Edinburgh to go ahead.
I have not done so alone.

The Spirit has been present, as always, and I've remembered to lean on her more rather than trying to stand on my own.
Friends, mentors, family, colleagues have drawn close. Hugs of loving-kindness. Messages of encouragement, understanding, affirmation. Conversations, listening ears, differing perspectives to help clarify my own thoughts. 
Financial support. You know who you are. Slipping a cheque into the post, or a note into my hand (or the hand of my parents), transferring money to my account, signing up to become a patron. When it comes time to write the acknowledgements in the thesis, I will not even attempt to name all the donors, for very real fear of missing someone out; not to mention that the list would take a page or more, as it steadily, graciously grows. 
I have done very little of this PhD alone. Exploring the mutual relationships of care that Paul encourages in Christ-followers in the letter to Rome, this is fitting. I'm not always certain what each individual who gives gifts like those I've mentioned receives from me by way of mutual care. However, I know that as I tell my story, it evokes a sharing of stories from you with me, and I am glad to receive them and hold you and your stories safe, in loving-kindness. 
Beyond that I engage do in this research – as I engage in the storytelling, poetry, presiding in gathered communities – for us all together. Since we are considering the PhD in particular, the enthusiastic response I receive for this project wherever I meet people and tell them about it is an indication that it is a good time to be exploring embodied engagement with our Sacred Story. People are anticipating the outcomes of this research, looking forward to the potential it holds for enriching our communities of faith and scholarship, wide-eyed with excitement that these questions are being asked. 

I have been exploring – we have been exploring – and we have found a way, together, as we have all along, friends, community, family. I will stay in Edinburgh; I will stay in the accommodation that has been just right for my needs; I will finish the PhD.

And although the total amount required is not quite covered; although questions remain unanswered, resolutions undiscovered, for my precarious health; still, I know I will be OK. 

Thank you, all of you. We truly are only fully human with each other.

If you believe in the work I am doing, and can help with the remaining shortfall, 
please consider becoming a patron

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Midweek Musing: seeds blowing on the Wind

This Sunday I was worshipping with the folk of Augustine United Reformed Church again, preaching as their minister Rev Fiona Bennett led our praying and singing and listening together. We were in Fringe Festival formation, raked seating and black curtains. I had two friends from my former congregation in Adelaide there, and spending the day in their company was a golden reprieve in some gloomy, difficult, times of late.

The Augustine congregation had been away together the previous day, contemplating their past and present and future; listening for where the Wind is blowing, looking for where life is growing, struggling, needing loving care.

So, because of this, and their congregational emblem of the dandelion, as a slant-wise take on the parable of the mustard seed, the reflection went a little something like this. Throughout, I sang a refrain from a song by Trish Watts in the book, Sanctuary, co-authored with Gabrielle Lord).

Parables. Seeds scattered in search of fertile hearts and minds for understanding. On Jesus’ breath are carried seeds that will fall generously with great risk and great hope. On his breath are carried seeds seeming too small to notice, but which will grow beyond expectation, give life beyond imagining. On his breath are carried seeds that will compete with the seeds of harmful plants; seeds that may themselves appear threatening as they grow wildly, but which surprise and delight as they challenge and confront.

Jesus speaks, and the seeds fly on his breath.

It reminds me of other stories: of God speaking and the seeds of creation blowing on the dancing, hovering Wind.

So the seeds fall, and we cannot tell where they will land, take root, or perhaps, lay waiting to be discovered. A story.
In the tomb of one of the kings of ancient Egypt, a handful of wheat lay hidden for five thousand years, until the tomb was disturbed, and the wheat discovered.
Remarkable. More remarkable, someone decided to plant the grains. In time, to the amazement of all, the grains came to life and grew more wheat.

Seeds grow, and sometimes we cannot tell which life, which plant, is the gift, especially when what grows is not what we expected. Another story.

A man who took great pride in the lawn at the front of his house, decided to cultivate a lawn in the rear. In this patch of lawn, however found a large crop of dandelions disturbing it. He tried every method he knew to get rid of them. But still they plagued him.
Eventually, he wrote to the Department of Agriculture. He detailed all the things he had tried, and closed his letter asking – ‘What shall I do now?’
In due course, he received this reply: ‘We suggest you learn to love them.’

He began by talking to the dandelions each day. Cordial, friendly. The dandelions maintained a sullen silence, still smarting from the war he had waged against them, suspicious of his motives.
But he persisted, and in time, the dandelions began to relax, returned the man’s smiles. Soon, the man and the dandelions were good friends.
The lawn was left for the front plot. And how attractive the garden that grew around the back!

I discovered as I pondered the parable of the mustard seed, that mustard was also considered something of a weed in the ancient Jewish community. Wild and untamed, the mustard bush upset the Jewish preference for order as a sign of God and holiness. They still cooked with it, but they didn’t grow it in their own fields, according to my friend and scholar, provoker of the Gospels, Richard Swanson.

So when we find seeds long hidden, how do we respond? We could respond with disdain and dismissal – too old, too dry, too whatever, to still have potential. Or we could respond with hopeful profligacy, giving new life the chance to grow.

And when we encounter mustard bushes or dandelions, do we see a weed inhibiting order, or the potential for generous welcome, for beauty, in the wild and unexpected?

There is a profligacy in the way God scatters seeds, scatters potential, throwing open the welcome to all, moving beyond a tamed, well-ordered structure of relationship. It is important to remember, however, that God does not abandon that way of being in relationship: recall the parable of the sower. The farmer still plants seeds in the grooves of the set aside field. But that isn’t the only place the seeds are allowed to fall.

The seeds are carried over to the edges, onto paths, into the weeds and wildflowers of open countryside. And the weeds, in another parable, are left alone – some may turn out to be welcome and welcoming, helpful and life-giving themselves – our dandelions and mustard bushes.

For it is God’s way to welcome the foreign seeds that blow in on the wind, that grow up alongside the ‘good’ seed. Consider Ruth, blown in from Moab; her descendants include King David, in whose line Jesus is placed in the story. What seems foreign at first, what seems wild, out of order, unruly or unholy, may indeed be the seed of life and hope.

What does the wind blow in our direction?

Where do we find seeds, lying in wait in the dark? Might it be a person waiting for a community, an occupation, an invitation to nurture and offer their gifts as nourishment for others? Might it be an idea waiting for a champion, circumstances, light and water to nurture its growth and flourishing?

What will we do, on finding these seeds? Assume they have lain dormant too long so they’re no good for anything? Or will we find some good soil, water the seeds with love and hope, give them a chance at life?

And where do we plant seeds? Only in soil that is proven to yield harvest, that is toiled and rested, bounded off from the wilds? Or do we scatter seeds – scatter love and joy and peace and hope – wide with God-like generosity, open to the unexpected, the wild and untamed?

How are we cultivating our own soil, the fields and gardens of potential in anticipation of seeds flung or found, blown in on the Wind? Do we expect that new life will grow here in this place, among these people, in our own hearts?

That Wind, that Sacred Spirit breath of God will blow we know not where – will carry seeds to us from unexpected places, and from us to places we may never know.

In these parables of Matthew 13, Jesus celebrates and affirms the generosity of God, the wildness of God’s love, and the mysterious unfolding of God’s Way – the realm or kingdom of God – here, among us, and wherever the Wind may carry its seeds.