For five minutes or a couple of hours on the first Sunday of the month people come and sit in a candlelit church.

Sometimes it is the simplest idea that catches the imagination.

Providing a place of sanctuary and stillness is one of the gifts the church can provide to a busy world full of stress and concern.

Be still and know that I am God.

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Over that past 6 weeks I’ve been hosting a series of Bible Studies called Everything You Know Is Wrong* (*probably).  It grew from a growing realisation that most people, despite being members and attenders at church for years and years, haven’t had the chance to explore the Bible much.  Lots of us are stuck at what we got at Sunday School because the stories we are told when we are children stick deep in our memories and nothing has happened since then to add to them.  So, we still think Jonah was swallowed by a whale, even though the Bible calls it a big fish and that Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem, even though there is no mention of a donkey in any of the stories.

Those are symptoms of something deeper.

We don’t know how to engage critically with the Bible.

And that, I think, is problematic.

So, for the past 6 weeks we have been exploring what kinds of literature the Bible contains, and why it matters that we know, for example, that Genesis 1 is a poem and Genesis 2 is a myth.  They are different kinds of literature so we should deal with them differently.  And if you just got annoyed that I called part of the Bible a myth, you should probably go and do some thinking about what a myth actually is (hint: it’s a particular type of story that tries to explain a greater truth – like God created – and it’s kind of like a parable).

One of the other ideas we have grappled with is what ‘truth’ is, because there is more than one kind.  There’s the ‘scientific, mathematically provable fact’ kind but there is also the ‘I love my wife’ kind and there is the ‘tells us something about the nature of humanity and /or God’ kind.  Each of these is ‘true’.  Our problem is that we value the first kind more than the others, which is a problem when the Bible is written mostly in the second two kinds.  You don’t read a poem utilising mathematical proofs.  It may be a style that uses a certain kind of lines or words, but that’s about construction not content.  That a poem has 7 words in the first line and 14 in the second tells us something, but not what the poem is ‘about’.

We’ve had loads of fun and some pretty deep conversations about creation, sacrifice, promises, relationship, wilderness and incarnation.  We’ve discovered that the Bible is nothing like we thought it was and that we will probably never read it in the same way again…

and that’s great!

We may also have ruined Christmas.

 

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So… this happened…

I was Ordained into the ministry of word and sacraments on Friday 9th June and inducted to serve as minister of St Ninian’s Stonehouse.

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(photo Avril Cutler)

As I read a large chunk of the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion this morning I was struck, not for the first time, by the role of the Empire.

Pilate is the Roman Governor and so plays the part of the Empire in political terms.  He tries Jesus and finds no crime but does the will of the people because politics isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about getting things done.  Pilate’s conversation with Jesus is fascinating.  Throughout we read again and again that Pilate is astonished and amazed because Jesus refuses to play the political game.

The whole pattern of the crucifixion mirrors the coronation of the emperor.  It’s a subversion of the story of power.  Right from the first line of the first Gospel, Mark, we see this counter story laid out.

The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

For us that seems like an obvious, even bland introduction.  But it’s not.  It’s a hugely loaded political statement.  It says Jesus is Lord… not Caesar.  The Roman Empire spread ‘peace’ across the known world through fear and violence.  The Emperor was a god and ruled as such.

Jesus is the opposite.  He has no army, no political ambition to rule or to dominate.  He does have one thing…  authority.  And it terrifies those in power.  Pilate can see it.  The religious leaders can see it.  And their Empires can’t live with it.

Empire stretches far beyond the rule of Rome.  The religious Empire was just as powerful.  Even the Roman governor is scared of facing off against them.  They have contained and codified God.  They have quite literally put God in a box in a room that nobody is allowed to go into, even though the box isn’t there anymore.  They have regulated how and where and when God should be worshipped.  They have decided what is and is not pleasing to God, what behaviour will be tolerated and what rituals must be performed.  They even dish out the punishments, including death, when people break the religious rules.

This Empire can’t cope with a God who isn’t angry and vengeful.  This Empire doesn’t know what to do with grace.

So, when this Jesus comes along and challenges both Empires by being all that they should be but are not, there can be only one outcome… he has to die.

If Good Friday teaches us anything it surely has to be some kind of lesson about power.  A king who washes feet, who has compassion and love for the poor and the sick, who has no place to live, never mind a palace, who has no army or uniform and no claim over territories or governments or countries, stands before the might of two empires and is executed in a brutal manner on a garbage heap.  Power and ambition and rules and authority and fear and hatred win…

Each time we try to claim Christ as ours and ours alone, each time we try to create rules and regulations, to enforce our way of thinking or our way of doing it, or  when we just plain want our way, we join the empire and take the side of domination.  We stand with the crowd, shouting “Crucify him!”

 

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So, after three years of study my diploma arrived in the post today.  I kew I had passed but I didn’t know I had passed with merit!  I’m not altogether sure what that means.  Probably an average of over 60%.

To say I’m pleased would be an understatement.  I’m delighted.  I loved my time studying with the Scottish Episcopal Institute.  I have made some wonderful friends and learned so much.

I finish studying with the URC at the end of this academic year.  I’ve been on placement with fantastic people of Shawlands URC for a year and will start a new placement with the East Kilbride and Hamilton churches in the new year.

In the meantime I’m exploring a call to a church so hopefully I’ll have some news about what happens next in the adventure of ministry very soon!

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It’s amazing how quickly time passes. I’ve been so busy studying and working that I’ve neglected this blog.  I’m hoping to have much more time soon.  I finish my course in a few weeks!  In the meantime, have a dig about the archive.  You never know what you might find!!!

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I’ve just spent a few days at college considering play and creativity in the context of church. I have lots of notes and thoughts, but the one that has stuck with me is about space to play and create art.

Play is at the centre of creativity.

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Play is about trying things out.  It’s about testing ideas, positions, opinions and options by imagining what they would be like without committing to them.  Art then, at least partly, capturing what you discover as you play.  This process of imagining something then making it if  done reflectively can be a spiritual practice.

That must surely begin with a playful attitude, the expectation that church is a place that encourages and enables play and art and creativity.  And that means you!  Yes, YOU!

So, how do we create both the expectation and the space for our churches and communities to be creative places?

I don’t think it’s accidental that Messy Church and Godly Play have been two of the most successful things to happen to the church for years.  Why?  Because they centre around play.  Spill the Beans works in a similar way because it centres on story, a playful and imaginative exploration of an incident or idea.

The strength of these approaches is perhaps that they don’t expect masterpieces, just that you take part and see what happens.

That your contribution is valued and valid…

no matter what your art teacher told you at school.

I’m fed up with church being about finding the one, correct answer.  The idea that a parable has one right, correct and universal meaning is just nonsense.  They are stories designed to make us think, imagine, test, explore and create meaning.  So, how else can we explore these meanings except by play and art?

The kingdom of God is like…

Imagine is the kingdom of God is like…

‘is like’ is an invitation to imagine.

What if it is like:

a seed

a man in a field

a box of treasure

a prodigal son

a vineyard

or whatever else we are invited to imagine.

How does that playful, fun, imaginative engagement help us to understand more about God, life and each other?

If that’s no the point of church what is?

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