Monday, 23 July 2018

Moving on

This will be one of my last posts on this blog, as my "Dances with Midges" in Argyll end in just a short while.

I have spent the last eight years as a priest in one of the most beautiful places in the world - not an exaggeration - and have been profoundly affected by my journey with the Christian communities I've served in Cowal and Bute and the wider area.

In just over two weeks I will move, with my family, to live in Dundee, on the East coast of Scotland.  I suppose I am a natural 'East-coaster', being born in Aberdeen, living in Edinburgh and Fife for quite a few years as a young adult, growing up in a Central Belt house that took 'The Scotsman' newspaper (the Edinburgh paper, for those reading further afield).  A couple of weeks after I move I will start my new role, as I will be consecrated as the Bishop of Brechin in the Scottish Episcopal Church. *pauses for effect*

More on that elsewhere...

For now I am in that strange transition time of leaving churches where we have put down some very strong roots.  A leaving dinner, last services in churches on Sundays and weekdays, farewells with people in the local community: it is a very extended, lovely, but hard goodbye (even if we are smiling still...)

(Photo credit: Alison Clark)

Someone asked my what had been the hardest thing about my time here. Many people have asked what the highlights have been.  It still feels a bit too much like being sat in the middle of the ministry, the God moments, the relationships, to be able to make too much sense of those questions.  The goodbyes are hard, and they should be, as being a priest is making strong connections and bonds with the people that you serve.  Breaking those bonds and moving on to something else should be difficult: it is worth it.

Overall, God has been here with us in so many ways in the past eight years.  The pattern of eucharistic worship, with bread and wine blessed and shared, three times per week, on the same days in the same places, has been a heartbeat throughout the time.  The faces have changed, as some have died, some have moved away, some have left for other (harder) reasons, and new people have come, have encountered the community, have held out their hands to receive the broken body of their redeeming God, taken the cup of the blood of their new covenant. That has underpinned the prayers said in people's homes, the profound (or trivial) discussions in meetings, at events, in the freezer aisle in the local supermarket.  The pitta bread broken in the secondary school as part of the years of Experience Easter outreach projects. So, so many other ways that a Christian community grows, forms, reforms...

That priestly heartbeat will continue here (a little slower for the vacancy). It has been, for me, a thing of great wonder, value and encounter.  That heartbeat will change for me now - it will still be a Sunday heartbeat, but in different places each week.  I will also look for the eucharistic heartbeat on other days in those other places. And the new styles of encounter, the new ways that God will be glimpsed. I feel a new blog coming on...

Someone asked me if have learned much in my eight years here. It was a very loaded question (I may not have always done what they would have liked me to do...). But I reflected: I have learned to be calm and thoughtful, and to listen for God. To be rash and impetuous, and to take risks for the gospel.  To keep going when your stomach is tight with the tension or anger. To keep going when your heart is singing with the joy and wonder. To keep going, and trust that God is with us. I have been formed, my vocation developed and tested and stretched. I have done nothing but learn and be transformed. It never stops!

It has been a wonderful dance, this 'Dances with Midges' of the last eight years. The dance here will continue, but with others taking the lead. Praise God!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Faith in a time of war...

There's been a lot of coverage and conversation about war on my various social media feeds.  We even interviewed our youth in the sermon-slot at the service last Sunday about this: quite how apocalyptic it can feel, in a time of nerve agents, false news, missile strikes, political positioning, environmental catastrophe, or not...

How can people of faith respond to a situation where countries attack each other? What is right or wrong?

There is a Christian view that is to be a pacifist. In that view, war is never acceptable.  That is fine, and is a valid and legitimate place to be.  Most Christians would use a 'Just War' approach, however, to making judgements about war.  The primacy of a 'Christian' Just War theory rather fades into insignificance in the modern world.  The ideas that have populated such a theory, from Augustine through Aquinas, have been subsumed and adapted into the modern day UN Charter.  Christian 'Just War' is ultimately rooted in maintaining order so that true religion can flourish (if one takes it all the way back to Augustine, trying hard to reconcile Christianity with a military Roman Empire). The UN charter has a different absolute value for judging the making of wars: sovereignty of nations.  None of which really helps the Christian make sense of war and the modern world.  Does God really care about one country over another? Things change, systems and political structures wax and wane.

But Christians must be rooted in values that place humanity first: God did that by becoming one of us, becoming a human. God's grace is open to all, every single human being.  Hairs on our heads are counted.  So in looking at any issue of justice and ethics, where is the path that values humanity the most?  Is fighting a war a way that humanity can be built up, valued, cherished and affirmed?  Sometimes, yes.  What if the second world war had NOT been fought, and the dark of Nazism had not been challenged. But what about firebombing Dresden?  The "jus in bello" subtlety of Just War theory (if you must fight a war, fight it nicely, essentially) rears its head again. History does a fine job of judging which wars are just or not, even given the victors' habit of writing that history.

So what do we do at the moment? Do we actually know what is going on, who has done what to whom?  Have we been manipulated by regimes or news organisations or troll-farms to have a pre-conceived pro- or anti-war view?  How can we, as individuals, even start to make that judgement?

But we can, as Christians, engage in the processes that are open to and are around us.  We can challenge the politicians that represent us to be accountable and make decisions that are just and humane.  We can protest and take direct action to force such accountability.  We can preach and blog and tweet about the issues: to get others to work for accountability and human value.  We can always even pray about it. A lot.

Can we get to a place where we, as Christians, can make definitive statements about whether war should happen or not? Unless we are truly pacifists, I think not, in the modern world of media and fluid truth (did I make that term up? I suspect I didn't) as we can never really know all the facts. No, I believe that is an anachronistic and arrogant view for 21st century Christians in a plural and secular world. We no longer own the right to define a "Just War". But we can be agents of light, agents of pressure, agents forcing accountability onto the powers and structures that act on our behalf.

Jesus appeared among the disciples and said, "Peace be with you." And they were glad...

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Easter begins again...

Holy Week and Easter Day are past.  The new week, the Octave of Easter, is calmer and forward looking, the fifty days of Easter stretching before us. But isn't it all a bit backward looking, this commemoration of events nearly 2,000 years ago?

Good Friday is central, for me, to the flow of Holy Week.  It is hard and gritty and uncomfortable.  Lots of people stay away from the reading of the Passion, the starkness of the cross, the harshness of death.  This Holy Week I led the Good Friday service on Bute, in the little pisky church in Rothesay.  Inside, just over a dozen of us lived through the last hours of Jesus' life.  Outside it was an almost-holiday-Friday, with shouts and laughs, children out of school, swearing, police sirens, cars and seagulls squawking.  Normal life was running past the hard place of our remembrance.

I reflected, in the service, that this was just like that first Good Friday, so many years ago, from Pilate's court to the rubbish dump of Golgotha.  A normal bustling eve-of-the-Passover-sabbath was going on.  Shouting, children playing, shops selling wares, people getting ready for the holiday.  And a crucifixion, too - another bit of normality in a first century CE Roman occupied state.  A spectacle for the masses, suffering as a tool of population control and political expediency.  All very normal...

But Easter Day comes.  The New Light is lit.

Photo credit: Alan Mole

Is this still normal? The disciples' lives are about to be turned upside down (again) - but this time by the risen Jesus.  Can that same impact be found in the busy world that looks pretty much the same as it did on Friday?  Do the holiday makers of Bute, or wherever, really care about the empty tomb?  Can they see past the gothic buildings, anachronistic ways of talking and dressing, the rich traditions that can attract or scare: and can they see the love of God, embodied in blood and pain, and embodied in light and new life?

Well, that is what we are here to do, this Easter and every day, to help people see past the medium to the person of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Does anyone care? God does - and that is why we will continue to shout, "Alleluia, Christ is Risen", and watch as, life by life, the world is transformed into the Kingdom of God!