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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2:06:14

It’s a week since I ran the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon.  I had hoped to break 2 hours.  I convinced myself that my training had gone well but the reality is that with running input = outcomes.

I ran 15 times in August and just 9 times in September.

That’s not enough miles.

I only had 2 long runs, 16k and 17k.  That’s not enough.

So, on reflection, this makes perfect sense:half

55 minutes through 10k was way too fast for the first half of the route.

So, on reflection 2:06:14 was ok.

If I want to do better I need to do more.  And that’s the challenge.

3 or 4 runs per week plus cross training over the winter.

Quality miles, not junk, because input = outcomes.

half 2015

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A half marathon is 13.1 miles or 21km for those of your who are metrically minded.

Except it’s not really.

August MilesAt 43 years old you can’t really just rock up at the start line and expect to survive that length of run.  So you train.  You run 4 times a week for months.  You start off at where you are and you do more and more miles.

For me the start was a slow 5k.  You add some distance to one run each week and this becomes your long, slow run.  Next comes a short recovery run which is more of a really slow jog to get your muscles working after the long, slow run.  The other two runs are where the speed comes.  A quick 5k, a tempo run for 8k or maybe a run that you up the pace a couple of times.

Pretty soon the miles are starting to rack up.

I’ve spent 8 hours running this month and have covered nearly 80km (50 miles).  There are still two weeks of the month left!

Why am I telling you this?

Well, because when you sponsor someone to run a 13.1 mile race you’re actually sponsoring them to actually run close to 200 miles.

Every mile adds up and every mile counts.

Just like the sponsorship you’ve been so generous to donate.

So far I’ve raised £460.

That’s amazing.  A massive thanks to all of you for your support and generosity.  It’s always exciting when my phone makes the ‘Just Giving’ ping noise meaning that someone else has just donated.  You have been so generous.

I was leading worship at Carluke URC on Sunday and mentioned that I was running.  The people there sponsored me £117.  That kind of support is really overwhelming.  You are all part of the team…

we are macmillan

So, what will Macmillan do with your money?

  • £1,020 could pay for a Macmillan nurse for a week, helping people living with cancer and their families receive essential medical, practical and emotional support.
  • £537 could pay for a Macmillan social worker or family support worker for a week. They work with community and social services agencies to help people manage the social and practical problems of living with cancer.
  • £390 could cover the costs for a person to attend a small physical activity scheme in a rural area for a year.
  • Between £200,000 and £600,000 could pay for a new chemotherapy suite in a local hospital.
  • Between £3 million and £7 million could pay for a new oncology and outpatient unit in a hospital.

You can help by visiting my Stewart’s Just Giving page or by texting STEW68 £5 (or any amount) to 70070.

So, thank you.  Thank you so much for your support.  It means the world to me to be able to help a charity that gave so much help and support to my mum and to my dad.

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