Friday, December 21, 2007

Good Clean Fun for Kids. The Zombie Walk

Something from the Edmonton journal in October - Canadians know how to have fun with their kids - October, yeah, which just before I kinda went offline sometime in November what with missing passports and all. I am now legal. No - not languishing in an immigration holding cell at the pleasure of the Home Secretary. Not dead - kinda Undead and looking forward to a busy Christmas and then off to the Gambia with my daughter for a week's holiday before returning and sending my passport off in the mail again for a Certificate of Approval to Marry. It's endless!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Back after a long journey, Raspberry Rabbit's new Canadian passport goes straight back into the mail for another adventure.........

The saga of the missing passport and the application for Further Leave to Remain in the UK continues.

It took a month - to the day - for the newly issued passport to travel by recorded delivery from the Canadian High Commission in London to my doorstep in Scotland. We've had a mail strike you see. Things have been stored in warehouses. The envelope arrived today (the 9th). I couldn't believe it. I'd already replaced the driver's license which was also in the envelope and ordered a new birth certificate from British Columbia. I was ready to apply for another passport. I looked at it several times, thumbed its pages, admired the fat and aging person depicted on the front page and wondered how I'd ever been young. Problem was - the passport was supposed to have been in Durham (thence to Croydon) last week in the company of an application to stay in this country a while longer.

I'd sent the application in on time but without the passport. I had found (surprisingly) a photocopy of the front page and the Residence Permit. I included that. I'd gotten a fax from London saying that the passport had indeed been issued. I included that. On Wednesday I did get a note from the immigration folks saying that they'd received the application and would I please not phone them to enquire about its progress. "We'll call you if anything is missing". The note had a reference number on it. I decided to risk a phone call anyway. The nice man named Dave at the enquiry line today said I could send it off to Croydon quoting the reference number and that it would be appended to my application. Which is what I did - special delivery - entrusting this document once again to the Royal Mail. Trusting that Dave hasn't led me astray. Every hopeful or maybe just desperate.

My parents are under strict instructions to stay well in the absence of my travel documents. I've a holiday booked with the daughter after Christmas which will require a passport. I'd even like to be admitted back into the UK at the end of the holiday. All is not yet completely sorted but it's looking better than it did a few weeks ago and your prayers and best wishes have been appreciated. One day I'll understand why things had to be this way.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's that time again. The Annual Clergy Conference for stipendiary clergy in the Diocese of Edinburgh. This is not a holiday! No way, Jose! I suspect my parishioners may be nurturing visions of clergy sitting in groups telling jokes, drinking in the pub, griping about their lack of preferment, being nasty to the Dean and conspiring against the Bishop. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a priest I would not lie to you. Fact is - we simply get a good group rate at the Atholl Palace in Pitlochry. It just works out that way. It's just a place where we get together and work hard. We'd rather be at the Holiday Inn.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Things you can actually buy!

Andrew Brown makes reference to a geek gift he's looking forward to getting for Christmas. It's a t-shirt which actually measures the strength of the Wi-Fi signal where ever you happen to be walking at the time. I think the three AAA batteries sewn into the shirt might dangle uncomfortably and keep the garment from hanging properly. But if you're wearing one of these you're not exactly a slave to fashion, are you?

I don't know if anyone else has been adversely affected by the strikes at the Royal Mail but my new Canadian passport is hanging around formlessly in the void being played with by Schroedinger's Cat - probably languishing in a mail bag somewhere in the Edinburgh sorting office. It was sent on the 10th of October. My permission to remain in the UK runs out shortly and I need to bear said passport along with my person to the Immigration Office in Glasgow and apply for Further Leave to Remain. Something I can't do without my passport. Removal Orders and Deportation are really not my thing.

Needless to say I'm a tad anxious and desirous of your prayers for the successful arrival of this little blue booklet. All may pray - of whatever theological persuasion - making a joyful noise from the same songsheet!

Raspberry's Passport needs to be found.

V. Lord in your mercy,
R. Hear our prayer

The Rector's Warden from one of my congregations has just sent me this photograph saying that it reminded him of me. I don't see it. But then again as one of the world's truly execrable poets has said:
Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursel's as others see us!

I'm guessing the photographer was getting the message that the Winnie the Pooh costume he'd chosen for this particular shoot was less convincing wet and up close than it had been at a distance on the shore.

Monday, October 15, 2007

At my first couple of weddings here in the UK I was rather surprised by strange combinations of feathers sticking out of the heads of the female guests in attendance. They weren't hats, exactly. I've since found out that these things are called 'Fascinators'. They're all the rage in the UK, Oz and Middle Earth for weddings and posh sporting events.

Do we have them in Canada? I don't remember seeing them. Perhaps in Toronto. Nowhere we'd admit living, anyway.

They're little creations of feathers and sometimes a second element attached to a comb or morphed into the sort of 'mini hat' which Queen Victoria might have yearned for. Who knows - maybe there's a recipe:

Take one songbird, chop coarsely, apply sparingly to head

For those of you who are in the Territorial Army there's this little number in Army/Olive which can double up as sniper's headgear.

This is all occasioned, of course, by Rev'd Ruth's reflections on a recent wedding at St Mark's Portobello where she said that she wanted a Fascinator and wondering what sort of design would be appropriate. Oi! Ruthie! Set the challenge and we shall meet it.

The basic question is - do you want it to go with your cassock and surplice (in which case a black and white number could be found) or with your hair (God has richly blessed you with a rare hue of rich colour not always found upon the heads of clergy) in which case something purple might be more appropriate.

Clergy Conference will soon be upon us. I shall arrive with a selection and you can try them on and model them for us in the pub. Pictures shall be taken and offered to Scottish Episcopal Bloggers at a modest price.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Human Tetris

Tetris is one of the only computer games I've ever liked. I liked 'Pong' too but it's best played on a Commodore 64. The Japanese have come up with a version that can be played without a computer. Admittedly this is an odd thing for the Japanese to be doing but the results are pretty inspiring.

Thanks to Gareth Saunders for this clip

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Time is running out!

Fr Knisely over at Entangled States is constantly coming up with interesting stuff. . The latest installment - quotes the following paragraph:

"'The Universe is about to flip from having three dimensions of space and one of time to having four dimensions of space. That's the conclusion of a group of Spanish astrophysicists who have calculated that observers inside such a Universe would see it expanding and accelerating away from them just before the flip. "

Going back to the original article doesn't help. I've as much chance of reading this as I have of flying to the moon. I suspect, though, that this could be serious. The astronomer in my congregation has noticed that the universe is expanding away from us. I hear he's not alone. That's why we get the 'red shift' in certain stars, right? So we must be 'just before the flip', non?

Is it even worth purchasing the 2008 Parsons Pocket Book? Should I get more furniture instead to fill the extra space?

Nick - you gotta help me!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Times has the following report on the New Zealand reaction to the loss at rugby to the French:

Newspapers printed match reports in white type on a black background, reflecting the sombre mood. The foreign minister, Winston Peters, called the result a tragedy and suggested it could even drive distraught men to "beat up" their wives and children.

And we're talking about Kiwis here - they're supposed to be milder mannered than even the Canadians. Who'd a thunk it?

Without a false note

I was tremendously taken with the adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel 'Atonement' which I saw in Glasgow the other night. Even taking into consideration the denouement at the end of the film, the story remains a simple one. I read the novel a year or so ago and I am usually hesitant to see a film where I've enjoyed the book and cultivated a set of visual images to go with it. In this case the film adapts the novel well - I even found myself thinking I had seen certain parts of the film before.

The movie opens with words being typed on an old Corona and it is the power of uttered and written words which is at the centre of the film: Words spoken or written which can never be taken back.

We never simply record events. We inject ourselves into the story we are relating. The desire of a budding young writer - Briony Tallis - to have the world conform to her hopes and, ultimately, to her anger and jealousy forms the core of the plot. A community of men and women reel from the effect of a young girl's testimony and attempt, over time, to reestablish what has been broken by her words.

The film has been well crafted. I cannot think of a single regrettable image or badly crafted scene - not one false note. This was a very satisfying film.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Liberal Defence critic Denis Coderre was in Afghanistan yesterday talking to Canadian troops there. Would somebody please tell the honourable member that just because he's in the Opposition in Ottawa doesn't mean he has to grow a beard and look like the Taliban in Kandahar.

Yes you can be too careful!

A report commissioned by the Church of England advises us to leave our clerical collars at home because they make us a target for violent criminals. The whole question of the advisability of wearing clericals on the street has been discussed elsewhere. This is different - now we're into the realm of health and safety where we know that......

You can't be too careful

Let's deal with how the report begins. It begins with the pictures of murdered clergy.

It then goes on to state in one of the introductory paragraphs that a 2001 study found that "70% of clergy suffer from some sort of violence". That's a lot! Me, I've got the same package of plasters that I had back in Chibougamau in the late 80's. I'm not even sure that the adhesive works any more. Maybe I've been lucky. The author then states his own findings from 2006 that "48% of them (clergy) had suffered at least one violent incident in the preceding 12 months". Fine.

First you want to know what 'violence' in this context means. I'm just off the phone with somebody with whom I raised my voice. Was I being violent? I was being aggressive. What is violence anyway - being shouted at - given sideways glances? The definition given in the article ends up being pretty wide indeed

4.4 Often in a parish are one or two people who can use violence as described in footnote 2 above [which I can't find]. These can be people who have a grudge against the church, the vicar themselves [sic] or God. The vicar becomes the target of the abuse which can often take the form of anonymous letter writing to the bishop, attempts to discredit the vicar and accusations of improper behaviour. These are often long term problems that are seldom dealt with in a satisfactory manner according to those clergy who suffer from this sort of violence.

Ah. We're back in Britain again.

First - show pictures of four clergy murdered between 1996 and 2007. Truly horrifying stories, all of them.

Second - give statistics for a generalized form of violence which includes disgruntled Altar Guild presidents writing the Bishop under the name of Outraged of Penicuik and saying that the Rector is an utter shit who should never have been sent to the congregation in the first place. I'm sorry - that's not violence. That's the reality of ministry in some places (tho mercifully not Penicuik).

Thirdly - propose a series of over-the-top safeguards.

My favourite? From the appendix at the end:

All front doors should reach the European Standard ENV 1627

(This means that the door should withstand assault with crowbars for five minutes, withstand pressure on the lock of 600 kg and withstand pressure on the corners of 300 kg)

All I have to say is that on the day my Altar Guild starts to assault the front door for five minutes with crowbars I'm gonna start checking the Church Times in earnest for available positions.


On a more sober note. I had somebody decide to kill me once - back in the early nineties.

His marriage had broken apart, he was seriously manic depressive and we had found alternate accomodation for his wife and daughter when he had beaten them rather badly.

His plan was to lure me to the 17th floor apartment/hotel room he was living in and pitch me off the balcony. He was waaay manic when I arrived after his phone call. He was a round but still very well-built fellow and when I arrived he was sweating profusely and wearing nothing but a small pair of bikini briefs and kept telling me that it was too hot in the room and he wanted to talk to me on the balcony. "Not here" he snapped in a staccato voice, "on the balcony. On - the - balcony!"

I was clever enough not to advance into the room. I backed out slowly on a pretext and got the hell out of there.

I must admit that I had ignored any number of little warning bells in my head as I was driving over to his place. I shoulda known better. The next day he was threatening over the telephone to throw himself off the same balcony and I managed to do a two-telephone trick and have the Montreal cops sneak up and haul him down. On his way to the hospital he told the police about his plans to throw me off the day before.

I'm not sure that risk can ever be completely avoided or should be avoided, for that matter. The cultivation of good common sense pays great dividends, however. My one risky encounter with an unwell parishioner was cleary my own bloody fault.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My friend John Beach, that most excellent of Episcopal priests serving (with his lady wife Denise) as Rector of Emmanuel Church in Geneva, Switzerland (part of the American Convocation of Churches in Europe) has written a letter to his friends about a man named Hiram Bingham. John's letter is reprinted here with permission.


Dear ones,

Denise and I were at a conference in Nice last weekend and were struck by the beauty and soothing climate. After the conference, we attended the Chagall museum and were moved by the paintings of this French Jewish painter. It was in this museum, that I came upon the story of Hiram Bingham (for his biography you can look at his Wikipedia entry

Be certain to read about Hiram Bingham the IV, for there is a long line of impressive Hiram Binghams.

Anxious to limit immigration to the United States and to maintain good relations with the Vichy government, the State Department actively discouraged diplomats from helping refugees. Bingham disobeyed his directives and issued between 2-3,000 visas over the course of the next year. Many of these were hidden in the American Episcopal church in Nice before they could be given transport.

When his superiors discovered what he had been doing, he was immediately fired. His family, however, was very influential, so he was given another post in Buenos Aires (then considered a hardship post) during which time he was instrumental in locating Nazi war criminals after the war. The state department become so fed up with his insubordination that he was fired from this position and moved to Salem, Connecticut where he disappeared into obscurity (I am told that Salem, Connecticut is an excellent place to disappear into obscurity). He arrived in the U.S. at age 44, and was never able to get a job for the rest of his life.

He tried several attempts to start small businesses, all of which failed. He died in Salem in 1988.

No one in Salem (not even his own children) were aware of his heroism until they were contacted by the Holocaust museum 5 years ago who wanted to commemorate Bingham. His own children were astonished when, over the course of 2001-2002 several memorials and a postage stamp were issued in his name.

Among the many people given visa, was Marc Chagall who was able to spend the war years in the U.S. Upon his return to Nice, he painted a series of oils paintings depicting the Exodus. I spent an hour looking at one in particular the Chagall museum on Monday. It shows the sinister forces in dark grey tones representing the Egyptian army chasing the Jews towards the Red Sea. One of can make out one person in the grey mass who is a bit separated from the rest, who has a yellow foot (the only bit of color on that part of the canvas). There is an ancient Midrash which states that the son of Pharaoh continued to think of Moses has a brother, so that his heart would not allow him to join in the genocide. The yellow foot was meant to represent the son of Pharaoh. It was also meant to represent Hiram Bingham. Chagall wrote in a letter found in Bingham’s attic where his confused children sought for documents for the holocaust museum. In it he stated that even in the hearts of those who are the beneficiaries of cruelty and injustice, a shred of human decency emerges and we can see that the darkness is not completely dark.

He referred to Bingham as a “bureaucrat par excellence”.

I spent a good while meditating on that yellow foot.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Sunday 30 September
Pentecost 18

Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

I once encountered a Grizzly Bear in the southern Yukon Territory. I was all on my own – rather in the middle of nowhere. There had been other occasions when I’d been part of a group hunting moose that we’d seen signs of grizzly bears – their droppings and the places where one had dug under fallen trees. We’d felt quite confident and not a little emboldened by the presence of the rifles hanging on slings at our shoulder. I’d once seen a couple of grizzly bears fishing for salmon in the river. That time my mates and I were in a pickup truck and we pulled to the side of the road and watched the bears through binoculars from the safety of the truck.

The occasion of this solo encounter with a grizzly bear was merely a hike, however, and I was unarmed.

I am pleased to say that I was less than a hundred yards away from it and that I was completely unafraid. I could see the bear and it kept moving its head back and forth and sniffing the air so it was aware of me. Yes – your preacher this morning stands unafraid in the presence of grizzly bears. That's the kinda guy he is. Did I tell you, though, that there was a chasm nearly a hundred feet deep between myself and the bear?

I meant to put that in the sermon. I should have. I suppose that might moderate slightly any thoughts of my being particularly heroic.

Yes, I’m afraid I’m as prudent as anyone else. The only reason I was able to stand there looking at this bear with my good eyes and he was able to sniff the air, grunt twice and smell me with his very good nose without any fear or incurring of risk on my part was the presence of a deep chasm separating the bear and myself – sixty feet of it vertical rock leading down to a small river. One of those chasms. Not worth the bear’s efforts for the dubious reward of a skinny sixteen year old.

In Jesus’ parable the rich man is being tormented in Hades while poor Lazarus has finally been rewarded for his years of suffering by being at the side of Abraham in paradise – in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ as the song goes. The rich man asks whether Abraham could ask Lazarus to dip his finger in the cool water and come over to him to cool his tongue. Abraham tells him that this is not possible. The rich man has received his reward in the course of his earthly life. Besides, he says, a chasm has now been established between us and nobody can cross over.

There is not a little irony in this story. Not only that a rich man ends up in Hades and a poor man in paradise. This is meant to be a ‘tale’, by the way, not a comprehensive geography of what the afterlife will look like. No – the irony is that the chasm always existed between the rich man and Lazarus. As Lazarus was being stepped over, as Lazarus was being looked through, when the rich man assumed that the scraps from his table were going into the bin or being fed to the dog and was unaware that there was a human being unofficially attached to his household. There had always been a chasm. The invisible chasm became, eventually, visible.

Our parents may well have wanted to insulate us from the rough life. They may have taken a look at the catchment area for the local school before they bought their house. They had the best of intentions. They wanted us safe. There were always friends your parents like and friends they don’t. I’m aware that the town where I live contains four or five towns – that people sometimes keep to themselves and that our churches – most of them anyway – are drawn from certain pockets and not others. John Street in Penicuik is a bit of a chasm. We don’t always know our neighbours.

When we gather around the altar on a Sunday morning are we aware of the spiritual presence with and beside us of men and women in countries we will never visit who speak a language we will never learn but are doing the same thing on a Sunday morning as us? Our children are less likely to be able to navigate the family globe than we were. Gap years are often spent on Australian beaches. Travel is involved, I suppose.

The chasm is comfortable. It keeps the Grizzly bear at a distance. I just finished hacking back the hedge which surrounds the Rectory in Penicuik. It’s a job one avoids and my ladder and I sank rather dramatically into the Rose and Hawthorn at one point. They’re meant to be a little impassable. They guard our privacy. You can hear the neighbours or the dog walkers but you’re guaranteed of a certain distance and certain degree of solitude.

What should the rich man have done? What is being criticised here? Is Hades the final destination of every wealthy person who does not – St Francis-like – stride from the comfort of his mansion to embrace and care for lepers? Is it as simple as that? Is it just another way of saying that rich men fit into the Kingdom the way camels fit through the eyes of needles? Maybe - maybe not.

What is being criticised here is the absence of vision. The rich man, after all, is just a character in a story – the real men and women who are the object of Christ’s concern and pointed words are the men and women listening to the story – either there with him when he told it or in Church this morning or listening to this sermon on their radios while they’re making their coffee. You are the object of Christ’s concern. Your community contains a multiplicity of souls – and you know very few of them. The shirt you’re wearing this morning was possibly made by a young person in another country earning a miserable wage who has not had the benefits of a comprehensive education and you did not know that. Your best attempts to provide suitable playmates for your children may be increasing their loneliness and not diminishing it. You are one of the rich man’s five brothers who has not had a visit from Lazarus. You are Scrooge before Marley’s ghost comes to visit him. You don’t think you have anything in common with a whole lot of other people and the economic ice floe your living on – the social ice floe you’re living on – is growing smaller and smaller. That’s more like it. It’s not riches per se which is the problem – it’s ignorance and the ultimate loneliness which it engenders.

Before there can be any change or repentance there needs to be vision. The scales can fall from your eyes because some aspect of the story of another person’s life has finally pieced your hedge or crossed the chasm and reached your heart and mind. But that sort of thing sounds like an accident – like one of those things that might happen to some people if they’re lucky enough. Jesus does not appear to be asking you to play the lottery.

No – there is a clearer message here. You are part of a world which contains people not of your clan or language or colour or religion. They are citizens in the towns and the cities in which you live. They dig minerals out of the ground for you and they sew your shirts. Pretty well every government service we depend on was once an act of charity. We used to be better at benevolence than we are now. The working conditions we enjoy were struggled for by other generations at enormous cost to their safety and their liberty. We used to be better at advocacy than we are now. It’s out of style. But there is still an enormous army of volunteers at work in the world. They build schools in Mozambique, they provide medical services where there are none. That sort of vision which sees the fortunes of other people as being necessarily linked to our own lives is still alive. It’s just a rather slim portion of society that sees things that way.

Take a moment to look around you. What doesn’t seem right? What can be done about it? What are you going to do about it!

Some blogs from Burma

from a variety of sources including a Christian pastor.

These may well not be updated often or recently since the government is cracking down on internet access as well.

In most cases these are people who are normally in and out of Burma - students, foreign workers and one pastor - who are now receiving reports via phone calls, emails or text messages.

One reads these things, obviously, understanding that they are fragments and come from anonymous sources. Important, nonetheless.

Burma (Myanmar) Blog

Ko-Htike's Prosaic Collection

Ka Daung Nyin Thar

Yangon Thu

Mizzima News

The Irrawaddy

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Saturday Visit to Reverend Ruth

St Mark's Church in Portobello put on a music festival on Saturday afternoon. It worked out well for us. Mrs Rabbit-to-be had worked two shifts in a row and was finishing at about 8 in the morning. She came over and crashed chez moi until about 1:30 and, after coffee and a fag was chipper enough to go out and enjoy a sunny day and so we decided to show face at the Music Festival at St Mark's. I gather that one member of the congregation was well placed with a number of local music groups and was able to coax them into coming along.

Ruth's church is one of those churches where the pews have been ripped out (or 'removed' as I think the politer term has it) and it actually doesn't look that bad. The place didn't have that gutted look that some depewed churches have. I was favourably impressed. It's a funky little church to begin with - very square and built to resemble a temple.

We arrived just as a small band of men with tartan trousers, accordians and lowland pipes were finishing. They were succeeded by a string quartet and then by a collection of younger people in various combinations.

There were stalls. There was tea and fairy cakes. I picked up some DVDs. It was well worth the visit.

At one point somebody was speaking into a microphone introducing the next piece of music and the crowd kept on talking. Now I don't know whether Ruth's church was one of those listed in the SEC Red Book as 'requiring a strong hand' but she belted out the word 'quiet' in the sort of manner that reminds you that she has successfully raised sons and is well able to enforce order.

Well done Ruth - your patch looks like it's thriving.

A friend of mine made me this cool graphic. The original idea was to ferry over a few audio bits-and-pieces that get done for a local Edinburgh radio station - 45 second 'drivetime bumff'. I thought I might tell a few stories later on. That's its tail, by the way, hanging between its legs.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Psalm 150 - FAMU Gospel Choir

More ideas for youth group meetings

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Sermon for Pentecost 18

Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

Have you ever been in an office when a manager was due to be fired? These things rarely happen out of the blue – there’s usually been some build-up to it – meetings held off site – surreptitious conversations on the telephone and then the day itself.

It’s the thing not being talked about and it’s the thing that everybody is talking about. The air is electric.

One mouthy individual looking like he knows something which he may well not says something like ‘Well, it’s about time!’ This guy’s been carrying on like he was responsible to nobody. Morale here on the floor has taken a nosedive – how can the rest of us be expected to take our jobs seriously with him around.”

Somebody else might well try and soften the hurt – looking for some third party who has passed the buck on to this unfortunate individual.

And think about the man’s family – there are children at home. There’s a grandchild on the way!

A braver soul might even hint to the mouthy individual that his own slate is not completely clean – what about this, what about that. Pot – kettle, don’t you think?

Senior managers arrive and walk straight into the large board room without saying hello to anybody. A little while later the principal character arrives – alone perhaps – accompanied maybe by a friend or a Union official or a personal advocate of some sort. He too greets nobody although there may be a silent handshake. Somebody’s hand might brush his shoulder in a non-verbal sign of solidarity.

You’re not at the meeting. The curtains in the board room are drawn. There is just the smallest rise in the volume of voices for a moment or two in the course of the half hour meeting. A point being made forcefully – offense or defense we know not.

The reading from Luke’s Gospel is a curious one. The parable is numbered among the "hard sayings" of Jesus.  I know plenty of clergy who would avoid preaching on it. They’d preach on the Old Testament reading for the day, they’d preach on the Epistle. They’d preach on the Collect – they’d preach on the text of the Mothers Union announcements on the back of the pew leaflet. They’d preach on the washing instructions for the new choir robes rather than attempt to make sense of the fact that Jesus seems to praise the example of a dishonest manager who gets himself out of trouble by committing further dishonesty. There’s something here that just doesn’t add up -

except there’s something that does.

Let’s return to the boardroom where our unfortunate manager is meeting with the Senior Management Team and the company auditor. There he is at the end of the table. He’s feeling a bit like a caged animal – like a circus bear tethered by a rope. After listening to a list of reproaches and accusations he is given the floor. Now he is making his case. He has argued, perhaps, that his misdemeanours were not that serious. Something has been misunderstood. He has put forward the name of various people on staff who could speak in his defence about this or that transaction – who were there at the time, who saw the missing receipts and recorded them.

At one moment he has been surprisingly aggressive. At another, he has asked for understanding. He has put forward the proposition that although he is a faulted individual he has done a lot of good for the company. He invokes his wife, his family, the fact that he is in his mid fifties and might never find another job. All of these attempts to save himself meet with sympathy from some around the table – with manifest disgust from others.

There will be at least one person at the table, though, who will look at him with some degree of admiration.

This is no longer the fellow in the nice suit cracking jokes – this is now the man locked in mortal combat trying to retain a large part of his life. This is what we’re all like when life gets serious. We defend ourselves. We look for a way out. We’ve obviously taken the seriousness of our situation to heart. There is no illusion here. We are fighting for our survival.

When it’s all over and the man is fired or when it’s all over and the man has retained his position by the skin of his teeth we will not look back at the various jumps and backflips which he attempted around the board table. We won’t talk about them. We will forget them. The impulse to defend ourselves is so basic - so universal - when the ‘real issues’ of food on our table are being discussed that desperate measures are completely understandable. Everybody understands that. For a brief moment we had a taste of the human condition as something akin to a bit of lichen clinging to a rock. All the politesse of mature human discourse placed to the side – for that half hour it was a matter of ‘hang on boys we might just make it’.

The single admirer the man had at the table - not one of those who were beset by the sentiment of pity or sympathy nor one of those expressing righteous indignation that that the man carried on so in his own defense - the single admirer the man had around the board room table might have put it this way: that those who look upon such a grasping as beneath their dignity have never been there themselves. The man put up a spirited and admirable defense.

There is an old definition of the word virtue - one which held sway before the Church got hold of the word - one where a virtuous action was one most excellently proper to any particular thing or person. The virtue of a knife is to cut, of a shovel to dig into the gravel sharply and effectively, of a lever to pry, of a mother to come angrily to her childrens' defense. One might praise the virtue of a growing blade of grass. In spite of out best efforts to lay a tarmac or even concrete driveway it has somehow managed to make a crack. There it is now cheekily waving its green leaf at us on a sunny day. A fine piece of horseflesh - see how fast it runs. A perfect predator - see how it monopolises the food-source. An able defendant - see how he defended himself with fury and panache.

The reading from Luke’s Gospel consists of a series of sayings. Several are lumped together. The ones which praise honesty in all things follow the story of the dishonest manager – they’ve been grouped together with it but they are not part of the same story. Luke is doing what he told us he was doing at the beginning of his Gospel. He is travelling around collecting the stories of people who were there – their recollections and impressions and we have here a collection of sayings about wealth and honesty which includes this enigmatic story – this parable – which is supposed to leave the hearers shaking their heads because they no longer know what they thought they knew. How can Jesus be overlooking the obvious duplicity of the dishonest steward? What can Jesus mean? What is he telling us both within and beyond this story?

Are there similar parables spoken by Jesus? Could they help us understand this one? Well sir, there are three that come to mind immediately:

There is the parable of the king who makes war against a neighbouring ruler until he hears that his neighbour is marching towards his borders with a much larger army equipped with the latest in swords and spears.. Which king, asks Jesus, will not immediately send out emissaries and negotiators to make peace before his border is crossed?

There is the parable of a man ambling across a field who discovers a treasure buried therein and immediately goes and sells all he has in order to purchase that field.

There is the story of a woman who feels she has been denied justice who goes to the judge's house and bangs on the door with a large rock until eventually the judge gets out of bed and goes downstairs and rewrites the judgement standing there in his doorway in his housecoat and slippers just to be rid of the old harridan.

These are all stories with a curious moral twist in them – that’s what parables do sometimes – they tell us the truth but first they ‘deep six’ our conventional and tidy view of morality: The man has not told the original owner of the field that he is signing over a hidden treasure when he signs his missives. The woman is getting a revision of a judgement because she is a pain in the neck – not because she is obviously in the right in her original request. The king made a foolish decision to go to war in the first place. What a failure he is as a military strategist! And the peace he now seeks? Is it not necessitated by the possible loss of everything in his kingdom? Or the possibility that his head will be exhibited on a spike in a foreign capital?

The characters in this story are opportunists. We don’t much like them - not opportunists. We don’t invite them to supper. The characters in some of the stories are desperate people. They have a bead of sweat on their brow.

We would put a certain stock in people gaining what is theirs by right. Something which we receive by charity or by importuning ourselves – something that we receive by sharp practises – well that hasn’t really been earned has it? It offends Protestant sensibilities. Give us what is ours by right. We will be happy with that.

Now remember, if you will – that Jesus is talking about the Kingdom - some state around and within us which God ushers in and invites us to enter and to be members of.

Ask yourselves what the greatest impediment is to one who gives gifts. I give one of you a gift. One fellow on the Gospel side of the church pops up and says ‘that one is not worthy’. He doesn’t deserve such a gift. Who is he to be receiving something like that?' I give an envelope to one of you on the Epistle side of the church and you say 'no thanks. I don’t take charity. Who are you to be giving me what I haven’t earned? '

I suggested that we are most comfortable when we can say that we have received what is ours by right – something which we have earned. Is it not precisely that sensibility which tells us that something which has not been earned is not ours to have which this parable is designed to prod at?

We have had years of Christian formation, hymns and camp songs about grace and mercy. We are told that we receive our life, our grace, salvation and our future as failed and guilty human beings. We hear it. We say it. We sing about it. But still it sticks in our craw. We’re not sure about it.

Jesus is neither praising nor is he passing judgement on the unethical accounting practises of the unrighteous steward. He does, however, point once again , as he does in so many of his parables, to an ordinary person facing dire the direst of consequences and notes the degree to which he is able to muster up the energy not to simply go and meet his Doom. Virtue in the first sense of the word: See how that knife cuts! What a virtuous and useful tool. See how that housewife sweeps her house from one end to the next until she finds the lost coin. What a magnificent animal. See how that blade of grass breaks through the tarmac. What a sturdy plant! See how the unrighteous steward calls in his master's creditors and forges for himself an exit plan. Would that the Sons of Light had the same ability to recognise the necessities surrounding them and the response required of them.

Have you heard one of those testimonies where a man or woman tells his story publicly - how at a particular time and place they found themselves at rock bottom - at the very nadir of their life's experience? You might have heard such a testimony in a 12 step group. Or heard such a story at an evangelical crusade. You will remember that such an individual then committed themselves in a simple act of faith to Something or more particularly Someone beyond themselves. Like Saul of Tarsus blinded by a vision they accepted the ministrations of Ananias. Like the woman taken in adultery they avoided the full weight of the law. What they had in front of them were not a series of options but the further possibility of Life itself with its concomitant meaning, sense and future.

And you? You might feel a little jaded about these stories because you've heard so many like them. You're not sure you understand.

Are you looking for something which you have not earned? Are you trying to get a gracious future on the basis on somebody else’s effort? Are you looking for peace that you have not forged yourselves? Well, join the club. There is no part of your life in Christ which you have earned. In the economy of the Kingdom there is nothing which you can have by right – based on your own virtue, your own honesty, your diligence or the regularity of your habits. We come to the Cross, each one of us, as a refugee.

What is tragic is that some of us do not know this – we believe ourselves to have all our ducks in a row. We are perhaps the target of these words of Jesus. Because we need to be reminded that the sinners’ prayer is always a cheeky and importuning plea for love, for help, for comfort and for life which is uttered against the backdrop of our failure as individuals and as a species.

Will you take this yoke? Will you accept this gift? Are you desperate enough yet? Have you run out of all other options?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When I started to dance again I felt ridiculous.

We covered miles of ground.
Walls and earthworks we fortified -
lonely nights spent guarding lines.

This crooked street for commerce
That one for death.
Each had seemed a gentle place at first.

I have looked at my Release a dozen times
and mouthed the Business English written there
I worry that my limbs are leaden weights.

The syncopated measure a mere wave.
That singer's words only invitation
and nothing adequately brutal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Something for the Young People!

That's the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain doing their cover of Nirvana's hit - Smells Like Teen Spirit. Many thanks to our brother (update: sister!) in Christ Ali Chesworth working the ripe fields in the West end of Glasgow for the reference to this.

I shall not sleep tonight.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Victor Wooten (playing Norwegian Wood)

For those of us who've ever fiddled around with a bass guitar thinking that it might be an easy way to end up being in a band - sitting around on a Monday morning playing along with the stereo or going up and down the neck of the instrument in some approximation of 12-bar-blues - here's reason to simply despair and return to preaching the Gospel.

Thanks to BLS for the reference

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The call has gone forth for bad obituary poetry. I happen to have a few things on my hard disk which I scribbled down a few years ago which appeared in our parish magazine here in Scotland a few months back - published, I might add, rather hesitantly by the editor. A buddy of mine back in Montreal edits his parish magazine and I note that there was no hesitation in picking them up and reprinting them there. Just goes to show that bad taste works well in the Americas where it is treated as a commodity.

My husband's no longer alive
He insisted that he could still drive.
In lieu of carnations
our church needs donations.
The funeral's on Tuesday at five.

Dear Mummy has gone off to heaven.
She died yesterday at eleven.
The funeral's not private
so try to arrive at
the funeral parlour at seven.

Did anyone know Alvin Fetter,
the inveterate drunkard and debtor.
His family's bereft
but a few things are left.
If he owed you please send us a letter.

We're all feeling sorry for Ed,
especially now that he's dead.
We still find it odd
and wonder why God
didn't go and take Grandma instead.

respectfully submitted
R. Rabbit

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Sermon for Sunday
the 16th of September

Pentecost 16

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
I Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

How do you put your groceries on the conveyor belt in the shops? Do you load everything on in whichever order the items happen to be sitting in the trolley or do you put your vegetables together – your meat, dairy, cleaning supplies etc?

Or do you mind? Maybe you don’t mind. You consider yourself a free spirit!

Or are you the sort of person who winces with pain when he sees things mixed up. What was that woman thinking? Who would put bleach next to eggs? Have you ever entertained the thought that if only the person ahead of you would turn his back for a moment you could reach forward and rearrange his shopping for him?

This would really embarrass your children who are already starting to shake their heads sadly.

I’m not that bad. I fear I’m getting worse, though. We don’t necessarily get wiser when we grow older – we do become more rigid in our habits and in our opinions. Some of us anyway – I’m told there are others who lose their inhibitions completely. Maybe that’s still to come and my children will have yet further cause for scandal and embarrassment.

The need to order our lives: “a place for everything and everything in its place” my father would drone at me when I left his tools out. I now have a sufficient number of books in my library – I think they breed in there at night - that I’d be lost if I didn’t have them grouped according to subject. Then there are dishes for ordinary use and dishes for posh dinner parties – bits of family china where it wouldn’t do to risk chipping them by putting them in the same cupboard as the everyday stuff.

We are classifiers – good Aristotelians – we arrange things in categories and we put things in little envelopes because it’s convenient that way, because it’s safer that way – because it’s easier to remember. Because it reduces risk.

I once lived in a small town where the old folks had everybody pretty well pigeonholed. One large family – the Robinsons – were Anglicans (after a fashion). Another large family – the Alexanders – were members of the United Church. Between them they grudgingly passed back and forth the control of the local Legion and the school committee. You could drive down the High Street with an old Robinson or an Alexander and they could tell you the family histories of most of the residents. “These ones drink. That one – she’s a bit wild. This one’s just like his grandfather – the whole family’s the same really”.

As a new priest in such a community you’d be a fool to neglect such an abundant source of information.

But you couldn’t help thinking, as you’re drove along with the old fellow that your source of information – your road map – your Rosetta Stone – your Oracle - was not so much describing the town so that you could understand it as he was desperately trying to nail it in place so that he could continue to control it. What do you think?

Luke puts it this way: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

We are not all committed to change. Remember that and save yourself some disappointment.

Tell someone you’ve been married to for years that you’re turning over a new leaf – see how much they believe you. Tell the bank manager that the person described in your credit rating doesn’t correspond to who you’ve decided to become or to who you really are. See if you get a loan. For that matter, tell yourself that you, who have endlessly failed at a particular task for the last decade are going to change your life radically – see if you believe yourself. Why? Why these prejudices? Why this inclination to believe that we are who we are and will never change? Or as it is more usually put: that one is who he is and will never change.

There’s something safe about the well ordered life. You don’t lend money to somebody who’s proven himself a bad credit risk. You don’t lend your car to somebody who drinks to excess. You don’t let your daughter date one of those Adamson boys. You don’t lend your tools to a Robinson. And if an Alexander tells you he’s got a cunning plan you can bet your boots it’s just a power ploy to take over the School committee from the Anglicans.

Safety and efficiency. Take it as given that people will behave a certain way and you can organize your world in neat little packages. If you hope more than you should you’ll only have yourself to blame when people disappoint you.

In response to the prejudice of the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus tells them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”

The parable was remembered, and gave rise to one of the earliest motifs in Christian art – a representation which you can find rendered in mosaic on the floor in the house of a wealthy Christian or scratched onto the wall of a house church by a bored slave with a nail – that of a shepherd with a lamb across his shoulders – Christ who seeks out the lost and brings them back to the centre of the sheep fold.

But like I said: We are not all committed to change.

The local councillor, the head teacher, the village worthy, members of the vestry, the priest or minister who has been in place for many years – we walk around with two very different pictures in our head. On the one hand we have a map of the world which we have drawn painstakingly. We know the children who act up, we know the troubled families, we are aware of neighbourhoods where there has been trouble. We know the people to avoid – those who’ve made the lives of our predecessors miserable – those who have been on the receiving end of much good effort and ministry but from whom the return has been feeble or non-existent. Those who said they would but then didn’t. Those who have not kept a confidence.

The information which makes up our little map comes to us from experience. We would be foolish to say that none of these things had, in fact, happened.

On the other hand, though, we have a Gospel which does not sit easily with the belief that people are nailed in place. Churches tend to be conservative in their appraisal of society. The Gospel is not. Churches tend to expect the same thing one Sunday after another and assume the presence of the same people one Sunday after another. The Gospels do not. Jesus seems perfectly prepared to disappoint worthy Robinsons and Alexanders and instead to bestow his blessing upon drunken Smiths and carnal Adamsons. Change and possibility are the currency of the Gospel account of Jesus ministry.

Our role as ‘knowing old goats’ who have got the goods on who’s who in our towns and churches may be a negation of our role as partners in the Gospel – the Good News of God’s Kingdom in the world. At the centre of this ministry is the personality of God – his very presence in the person of Jesus – extending the hand of welcome to those who have fallen off, wandered away, disappointed their pastors, made a spectacle of themselves, isolated and alienated their friends and family and burned their bridges.

Jesus says, in this morning’s gospel, that he would welcome such as these – that he will go out of his way to bring them in – to find where they’re hiding. To lift them up across his shoulders and bring them home. To restore their place at table.

Jesus risks the invite. The tax collectors and the sinners risk showing up and passing under the knowing gaze of Pharisee and scribe – the final question is not asked of them, nor even of the Pharisees and scribes present at the time - but of us – of men and women who are in Church this morning in Penicuik or West Linton or who are listening on their radios. Will we be partners in the Gospel or is the insult to our sense of order and propriety simply too great?

Did you appreciate this sermon? Did you sneak bits of it for your own sermon on Sunday morning? Here's the collection plate. The Old Brewery Mission is one of Canada's largest homeless shelters. It's 2=1 (CDN-GBP).

And no - I'm not usually this organized - having a full text on a Thursday. The circumstances this month are exceptional.

The recording was made as part of New Every Morning - BBC Scotland's Sunday Morning Service and is used with their kind permission. Follow this link to 'listen again' to New Every Morning or any of Radio Scotland's shows.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For the Burns fans amongst us

A delightful video of a wee girl singing Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon. It won't embed. Follow the link to Youtube.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sweet Victory!

One of my two congregations organized a Sunday School outing during the month of August at a "Family Fun Park" in East Lothian. It wasn't easy - pretending to enjoy myself in the presence of a whole lot of small children and coming down to their level.

It's what Jesus would have done, though.

This is a picture of me pretending to have fun. As you can see I managed reasonably well.

One of the children was trying to go faster than me in his Go-Kart. Duh - I don't think so! You've got to nip this sort of thing in the bud if you're going to maintain order in a congregation.

The reason I get to wear the colourful togs and stand at the front of the Church and talk all the time is because I can drive the Go-Kart faster than you can. No way! Eat my dust, kid!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Rabbit Repents!

I'll admit it - I was prepared to mock. Gently, of course, because the good father is doing a worthy thing - he has plenty of other little videos on the vestments of the Mass and other bits and pieces (which I think a few of my own flock have asked me to write something about and have I done it? I have not!) The ipadre format was a little forced. I suppose that's what I initially intended to poke a little fun at. Jeez, I'm making myself feel bad just writing this. What a shit I am! I hold the internet responsible. It's Madpriest's fault - maybe the fault of the Ship of Fools. It's that Dave Walker!'s my own fault.

Well sir, then I happened upon the interview with the four young women entering their postulancy with the Capuchin Sisters. All of a sudden it hit me that they were more or less the same age we were - back in Montreal at the end of the seventies and in the early eighties - a year or two before the trickle of young people into ministry dried up completely - ever to be replaced by a group of people uniquely made up of second vocations firmly rooted in middle age. I found my heart strangely warmed by the thought that somewhere in the hills of the United States there are young people considering turning the whole of their adult life over to the service of Jesus.

I want my youth group to see this. But in the mean time, in dust and ashes......I repent.

You gotta love the Irish!
(they know how to take you down a peg or two if you ask them nicely)

As reported by Madpriest

At a U2 concert in Ireland, Bono asks the audience for some quiet.

Then he starts to slowly clap his hands.

Holding the audience in total silence, he says into the microphone.....

"I want you to think about something. Every time I clap my hands, a child dies in Africa."

A voice from the back of the audience yells out........

"Then fookin stop clapping yer hands, ya arsehole!"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Clio puts her foot in it

I gave up on a writing project today which wasn't going overly well. I decided to take advantage of the reasonable weather and take the best of all Labrador Retrievers for a walk along the mighty North Esk which runs down the hill from the Rectory. There's one spot where the river flows in a slow and determined manner in a stream 20 feet across and a foot and a half deep.

As I sat there on the rock watching the river I found that I was looking at about four things all at once. There was, first of all, the reflection in the water of what was behind and above me - the patch of blue sky amid the clouds and the canopy of Beech and Red Pine. Then there were the little clumps of white bubbles on the surface of the stream flowing steadily by my feet at the pace of a brisk walk. Around them on the surface of the water were little eddies, the mild boiling-up of water forced up over rocks beneath the surface and small whirlpools a half inch deep. Within the water - the odd bit of detritus - a leaf or two - being carried downstream. These never travel evenly - they are subject to invisible currents. Their movement is hesitant. They tumble. They wiggle about in fits and starts.

Pushing 50 as I am now, the North Esk has only one message. Things move downhill., heading off to their end and destination. The arthritis in the spine, the word forgotten for a moment, the impatience with things said by younger people purporting to be novel but which are just recycled rubbish from other days. Yeah, I guess I'm 49 alright!

And so rivers have the same message as waves hitting the sand. The regularity of the beat, the inexorable course of the path - waves beating things down - rivers carrying things away. I weave together something in my head which I'll preach about another day - a sermon about releasing things, a sermon about the experience of change and decay, a sermon about submission to time and transformation.

At this point Clio decided she needed a drink and so padded past me into the water. She waded out and drank a few mouthfuls, muddied the bottom, walked up stream. Then she climbed out. As she passed me her sodden tail smacked my trouser leg and soaked it. Helpfully, she shook the water out of her coat right beside my ear and I found myself pushing her away crossly. She hadn't a clue how she'd offended and looked hard-done-by.

My sombre reflection on death, decay and entropy was now lost. The mood had gone. There'd been too much volition here - too much tramping upstream - too much impatience with sameness and uniformity - an unwillingness to leave things as they must be.

Bloody dog! I'll have to start again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rabbit to wed!

Sometime in the spring (date as yet to be decided on).

I'd pretty well taken it as axiomatic that I was going to end up an evil old man living in a garret flat and eating beans out of the can. This appears no longer to be the case and a young Scottish lass has both gotten to know me for the last year and a half and yet still accepted my proposal of marriage. Nups to take place sometime after Easter.

The video below is not her, by the way. Her opinions are strong but not that violent and she's quite capable of making them known fully dressed and in sensible footwear. No, this is just my little way of saying goodbye to all those 'other' women.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Têtes à claques

If your A-level French ever fails you in the East End of Montreal, Raspberry Rabbit's translation service is there to help you through. Frankly there were a couple of words which failed me but the gist of the thing is here. Really quite funny.

Officer #1: This is Constable Whittaker, the bank is surrounded. Come out with your hands up otherwise we’ll be really angry.

Thief: No way chickenshit! It's you who's gonna turn around quietly and go back to your nearest Dunkin' Donuts because I have a hostage!

Officer #1: (aside) Shit! He’s got a hostage!

Officer #2: (aside) Oh Look! I think she’s pregnant!

Officer #1: Okay, so what’s your name, buddy?

Thief : Tony. My name’s Tony

Officer #1: Now listen, Tony. Let the pregnant woman go and take me as a hostage instead.

Lady: (aside) What pregnant woman? Is he talking about me?

Thief: No way, fatso. I’m keeping the pregnant woman with me.

Officer #1: Come on Tony, you can see she’s about to give birth……

Lady: (aside) What’s the fat policeman talking about? I’m not about to give birth. I’m not even pregnant!

Thief: (aside) Calm down, lady. I’ve got no intention of harming you or your baby – I’m just looking for a way of getting myself out of here.

Lady: (aside) Hey that’s really sweet of you Bozo but don’t worry about the baby because there is no baby because I’m not pregnant, get it?

Policeman #1: Tony, listen up buddy. Tell me what you want. It’s 5:30 already and nobody here wants to miss the beginning of Virginie [a television show] so let’s get a move on.

Thief: Um, let’s see....a million dollars! I want a million dollars!

Policeman #1: Okay. Listen I don’t know if you noticed or not but you’re holed up in a bank. I think you’re better placed to deal with that part yourself, no? Is there something else you want?

Thief: Umm…err…I want a plane to Cuba. Yeah, that’s right, a plane to Cuba!

Policeman #2: (aside) Hey, you know what? My sister is a travel agent. Should I give her a call?

Policeman #1: (aside) Uh yeah, I guess, might as well give that a try.

Policeman #2: (dials number) Hello Nicole? Yeah, it’s me. You doing okay? Me? Yeah, okay not bad, errr, having an interesting day. Listen, beautiful, hows about booking me a quick trip to Cuba, later this afternoon, rush rush. Uh, no no, I’m not fighting with the Missus or anything. It’s not for me. Listen, I don’t have time to go into detail, just book me a seat for Cuba real fast, rush rush…..(pause) uh……hmm…..wait a minute, I’ll ask (to policeman #1) What about the seat… that going to be a window seat or an aisle seat…uh….he has a choice.

Policeman #1: You’ve got a choice of seats! What do you want, window or aisle?

Lady: (aside)I find that a seat in the aisle is always more convenient. That way you’re not constantly disturbing people when you want to go to the toilet……

Thief: I want two seats in First Class ‘cause I’m taking the pregnant woman with me. I’ll let her go only when I’m safe in Cuba.

Lady: (aside) What are you talking about? See here, I can’t go to Cuba. My suitcases aren’t packed, I don’t have my swimsuit there’s no…..

Policeman #1: Be reasonable Tony. The lady’s probably going to start having contractions on the plane. What are you gonna do, hold her hand and start yelling ‘push push’ at all the right moments? Think about it!

Lady: Okay, I've had enough of this nonsense (hits the thief and knocks him out – strides towards the police car). Come here, fat policeman and I’ll give you a few contractions…

Policeman #1: Madame, madame, remain calm. Hold on (crash, smash – off camera) Hey! Hey! I told you to calm down.

Friday, July 27, 2007

What's Opera, Doc?

According to the Telegraph. the opera crowd in Bayreuth is up in arms over the current production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

"The great-granddaughter of the composer Richard Wagner was jeered and booed after staging one of his operas complete with nudity, giant plastic phalluses and "raining" shoes."

Family politics are playing their part in the affair:

....Katharina (Wagner) is locked in a three-way battle with fellow Wagner scions Nike and Eva, both 62, for control of the festival. A directorial triumph could have in effect crowned her as successor to her father, Wolfgang, 87, the current festival director.

I must admit not being overly familiar with Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Opera is an acquired taste. If we're going to love it we have to start young. It has a lot to do with our early education. I've got my favourite arias like everybody else but Bugs and Elmer managed to get their Wagner innovations done and dusted in the space of a few minutes.

Seven hours would be way too much. Our local bookseller in West Linton is over at the festival in Bayreuth right now and I'm eager to find out if he was one of the booing purists or not.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Welcome back Boris!

Those of us over the age of 45 will appreciate having the Russians back skulking around the streets of London as Enemy #1 - hello, meester Bond! Allow me to eentroduce myself! The burkas and the green flags were getting a little tiresome. It was all wrong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I actually wrote 'chickenshit' instead of 'chicken' but they wouldn't let me say it. I was censored. There ought to be a law!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ok so there is some justice in the world

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Have you heard of Prairie Oyster? You might not want to know what a Prairie Oyster is but they're a pretty good Canadian band as well.

From the Globe and Mail today comes a story of a man struck by lightning while listening to his IPod. Careful to note that he plays in a 'church orchestra' and was listening to religious music at the time of the incident, the article goes on to suggest that

"...The freak accident has all the hallmarks of a biblical smiting..."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Two days of mixed sun and cloud - ecstasy!

Jeez, what is that stuff?
It's sunshine!

Nearly two days now with a healthy dose of the stuff (not constant) each day. I don't know what to do with myself. It's so enjoyable. This much fun and there's no risk of going blind. This is Britain. It ought to be legislated against or at least regulated.

I got back from holidays in western Canada on the 8th of June. It's now the 9th of July. In the last month there has not been a single day without some rain in it. When it has rained it has frequently been torrential. As they say in these parts 'It bucketed'.

Last week I was walking my dog and the girlfriend's four-legged dog-like pet on the Green in West Linton. I was on the mobile to her and I mentioned a strange looking black cloud coming in from the Northeast. I returned her dog to her house and started for home. By the time I had hit the roundabout the rain was coming down. Then it fell in sheets. Then it fell in sheets mixed with hail. When I went through Carlops Village the water was all backed up and came up 2/3 of way up my tires. And then it was over. No ginormous floods like they've seen south of the border. Still in all.....

A wet month. And we hope it's over now.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Feast of St Peter
and St Paul

July 1st, 2007
A patronal festival in Edinburgh

Peter and Paul – they go together, like ham and eggs or like Romulus and Remus or Morecambe and Wise.

You might call the two towers of your church Peter and Paul, or so name two bells in one of those towers.

My mother had a little song about two small birds sitting on a wall - one named Peter and one named Paul. There’s a certain ‘twoness’ there – a symmetry.

In an icon the two saints are each depicted holding an edge of a basilica and supporting it. All is well. All is as it should be.

See how our lintel is supported by two strong posts. See how they share the weight. Stability and peace.

It’s what two apostles should do. It’s what Luke is eager to demonstrate in the Acts of the Apostles as he describes the Jerusalem conference. Peter - he will minister among the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Paul - he will work among the Gentile believers.

Two individuals – each with his own trajectory for Mission meeting together and ‘agreeing’. Agreeing at a formal meeting. Agreeing in the presence of witnesses. Agreeing not to get in each other’s way – agreeing that their separate missions are in fact two sides of the coin – two peas in the same pod.

What would you think were you to find such a written agreement between two individuals promising to work in concert with each other without getting in each other's way? You might entertain the cheeky thought that significant disagreement had already taken place, no?

Are we always so suspicious? The box says ‘tasty’ but we look at the back to see what the ingredients are. We remind ourselves that the woman feeding this stuff to her happy children on the television is a paid actress. She conjures up that smile for money.

The actor and his new wife appear on the red carpet looking positively glowing But maybe the tabloids have it right: He hit her once. She has another love interest on the side. She has trouble maintaining her weight.

If Country Life is telling the story of an agreed stable apostolic ministry aiming in two directions then we can be assured that the News of the World is not far behind wanting very much to scratch the surface and find what lurks there beneath the symmetry – behind the rosy picture of unity and stability.

We do not have to go very far beyond today's second reading to find sharp and suspicious words in the Epistle to the Galatians. Paul first describes his agreement with Peter and the others in today's Epistle in a way not unlike Luke's version of events in the Acts of the Apostles.

“They gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”

Public agreement - the recognition of different missions - to Jew and Gentile. But if we carry on for a few verses beyond where this morning's lectionary reading ends we find evidence of a significant 'falling out' when Peter comes to visit the mission of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch.

Showdown in Antioch - screams the tabloid headline. I needed Peter and Peter bailed out. Maybe just a single word headline - hypocrite!

The trouble? Ah! The usual, I'm afraid. Who is in and who is out - What are the limits of God's reach? Does he maintain a small circle of friends or should we, in his name, open the door wide. - remove the door from the frame and the frame from the wall. Do we take the walls down.

And if creative and inclusive ministry is good for us when we're alone and far from home is it equally good for us when the Bishop visits? Is it as much a feather in our cap when the 'men from James' come to visit - representatives of a very conservative leader back in Jerusalem who might end up compromised if word of the goings-on in Antioch were to reach his opponents. Fear conflicts with grace - prudence undermines boldness.

Conflict. We've seen it all before. Maybe you're here because you landed in it in another church. Maybe the possibility of conflict in the Church has kept you off vestry. Maybe you hunger for the sort of Church where pastor, pope or primate speaks with the sort of eclat that doesn't allow for opposition or serious critical analysis. It makes life a lot easier. I think of how many fine young people I was at seminary with who, in search of something solid and unambiguous locked themselves away in every more inflexible patterns of ministry.

I had occasion, recently, to participate in my parents' Golden Wedding celebrations. Everyone was there - all the cousins - uncles and aunts. I have snapshots. The shutter opened and shut and revealed a family that is really quite well - at this particular moment in time - almost all of them.

What made that fact remarkable is that it has not always been that way. It's a 'scarred wellness' rather than an innocent and virginal intactness with my family. Like I said, I have the snapshots.

You move your finger from left to right and when you arrive at each face in the picture you can tell a story. Ten years ago this happened. Those two brothers weren't talking for a while. There was an addiction. Here was a betrayal. It very nearly ended that marriage right there and then. How did he ever get a job? He's kept the same one now for nearly five years - that's some kind of record.

They've not so much leapt from crag to crag as they have climbed out of the swamp onto a safe rock. And the fact that they are now comparatively well is not so much in opposition to what they once were as it is the harvest of what they once were.

Some of them, anyway, would say that it was all worth it. They could do with better knees and a few more teeth. But the struggle was part and parcel of the life they now lead.

If Peter and Paul are the authors of the grace which they preach then their struggle and disagreement is fundamental and a scandal to be concealed and glossed over. Splits in the Anglican Communion, divisions in the parish, the Reformation and its sequelae in like manner diminish the quality and effect of our ministry if we are the authors of the grace which we preach - which we are not - there is another. Peter and Paul are martyrs - witnesses - they stand in the presence of something greater than themselves and point to it.

What was Peter told in the Gospel I read a few moments back? That life and ministry would exact a terrible toll on him. He would be mastered. He would be taken and led - taken somewhere he did not want to go.

Clearly he understands all this for he is possessed, for a moment, by an instinctive childishness. In words which, again, are just beyond the reading from today's lections he points to John the Beloved Disciple, there beside Jesus, and asks about him. What about this one? he asks - your favourite disciple. Die in his bed, will he then? Old and full of years? Why just me? Why must I die in service and not him?

And Paul? What is Paul told by God when, at some subsequent point in his ministry, he cries out to be relieved of a 'thorn in his flesh' the exact nature of which we are never privy to - some weakness or vice, some infirmity of flesh or spirit. Three times he appeals to God to have this taken from him and is told 'My Grace is sufficient for you for my strength is made perfect in weakness'.

We know that truth is something struggled for and not simply possessed and then preserved. Not only because we believe that the truth is arrived at through a process of assertion, negation and the arrival at some new unity. Conflict is at the very heart of its discovery and acquisition - conflict with a world slow to recognize love, conflict with a self reluctant to submit to mastery and martyrdom. Peaceful worlds are so frequently small and lonely worlds.

The lintel is held up by, among others, these two strong posts. When we examine them closely, however, we notice that the wood is not without character in its substance. It has been rough hewn. Scraped and chipped. It bears the marks of its children, the marks of seasons, the weak parts healed over, bitter winters and scorching heat. Its rings and circles bear witness to times of both fatness and leanness - effective mostly because it has been tried and in the long run found to be sound and strong.