Friday, 31 October 2008

Confront your prejudices

On Tuesday, I spent 2 hours at Heriot-Watt University, and on Friday, another hour and a half. The University is looking for a new chaplain and as part of the Chaplaincy Council, I have a place in the group given the task of considering the applications and then, later, conducting the interviews. A lot of people applied for the job! It took a while to sift through these applications. I came to that task, as anyone would, with a notion of what I think the chaplain should look like, but there were all sorts of applications that challenged these preconceived ideas and made me question whether these preconceived ideas were more than that. Was I prejudiced in favour of certain kinds of people or against others? I can't tell you what these were in detail because the process is still on going, but suffice so say there were questions about gender, nationality, and religious affiliation.

Then along came the debate about Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand. Now, I admit a prejudice - I find it very hard to be in the presence of arrogant people! They make me feel as if I'm small and don't count and I find that hard to take. I have been 'in conversation' with people who are looking round the room to see who else they can talk to; who might be more important for them to speak to and their eyes are not on me, but their attention is elsewhere. To me that smacks of arrogance. I might be well out of order, but Ross and Brand strike me as being arrogant men, who think that they are untouchable and who, for that moment at least, thought they could get away with the most outrageous abuse of a young woman. Part of me smiles, because they have been humbled!

Prejudices are attitudes that make us treat certain kinds of people differently just because they are a certain kind of person. Women have been on the receiving end of so much prejudice and we like to think that it has gone, but has it really? There are still places where women are treated as second-class citizens. There are still people who subscribe to the 'children should be seen and not heard' school of thought; there are people who say that 'we want children to be part of Church, but we don't want the disruption they bring with them!'

At the Kirk Session conference at the beginning of October, we discussed the 7 marks of the healthy Church, as described by Robert Warren. One of these marks is 'makes room for all', an inclusive Church. One group of elders, discussing this, made a very perceptive comment: 'although we are good at welcoming people, we need to learn how to accept people who are different.'

Prejudices are shaped by all kinds of forces: by our upbringing, by our circumstances and so on. Yet, every person you will ever meet, no matter who that person is, no matter what that person is, has been created by God, equally and without distinction, having the same dignity, in the same image of God. The Bible challenges us to treat every person that we meet in exactly the same way, with the same love and acceptance. (James 2:1-13)

A man sat under a tree. His name was Nathaniel. He said to Philip: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Some people say the same today about the Church of Scotland, or about people aged 12-16, or about old people, or about Glasgow!

What are your prejudices? How will you change?

Friday, 24 October 2008

The road to Corrie Fee

We went to visit that well-known Scotsman, Angus Glen! Well, Glendoll, actually! We were on holiday in Kirriemuir for a few days last week and on Tuesday decided to go exploring! There is a car park at the end of the road; you have to pay £1.50 to help pay for its upkeep. It was a sunny day, if breezy and bitterly cold in the wind. There are 5 tracks to walk from the Glendoll car park and we chose the green track - it leads to the Corrie Fee Nature reserve and 'breathtaking views' of the Corrie.

The road was a forest track. Almost all of the time, we were walking through the forest. (How many trees have been planted in Scotland in the last 50 years - answers on a postcard please!) It was quite gentle to begin with and gradually got steeper. Then we had another choice: the blue route had been the same as the green route, till about two-thirds of the way up, then it went off to the right and along the side of the river. We decided to stick with the green route and keep going up. Then the road became a narrow path through the trees, still climbing up into the hills; was there no end to these trees?

Finally, we came to the fence; there was a gate and a stile; on the other side of the fence, no more trees and we could see Corrie Fee. It is indeed a breathtaking view. It would have been even more breathtaking if the sun had shone constantly and not been clouded over, but you can't have it all ways in Scotland in October! We sat for a while and admired the view; we took some photographs to celebrate our achievement. (OK, it is not Everest, but you don't have to climb Everest to be an achiever!)

Then we turned to come back down the hill. All of a sudden walking became easy. We could stride out confidently and strongly because now we were going downhill; what had seemed to take hours (it didn't really; it just seemed that way) on the way up, took a matter of minutes on the way down. Perhaps it was the thought of a Forfar bridie for lunch at the bottom that spurred us on. We enjoyed our walk on Tuesday; it was cold, but we left Glendoll with a sense of achievement and a need for a hot cup of coffee at the Glen Clova Hotel.

Why am I telling you this story? Our perspective on life changes with our circumstances, but God surrounds us everywhere. Go to read Psalm 139, especially verses 7-12. Michael Wilcock in his book gives this section of the psalm the title How God surrounds me. The answer? Everywhere! No matter our circumstances, no matter our perspective on life, God is with us.

Happy climbing!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Reference Points

A small coffee table sat just inside the door. There is a flower arrangement on the table, yellow, red, blue flowers. Around the flowers sat 4 police helmets and a white police hat; on the floor, 3 more helmets. This is the picture that sticks in my mind from Kevin's funeral yesterday, a 45-year old policeman who died in a car accident last week. The helmets belonged to the policemen who carried his coffin.

These are the hardest events of all in which to be a minister. There are no words to say that can change the circumstances for his family, or his friends. Their sadness was tangible. The Superintendent who paid tribute to Kevin was in tears as he spoke.

The notion that seemed to me helpful and useful for the occasion was that of 'reference points'. We need to have some fixed points on our horizon that enable us to deal with situations like these; points of faith or understanding that don't change, but that help us put our situations into a bigger perspective. There were two reference points for me yesterday: the first is that Jesus died and rose again, a young man who died before His time in some people's eyes, but in His own eyes the time was just right. His death and resurrection throws a different light onto our notion of death. The second reference point was the endless love of God for us, a love that never ends and from which nothing can separate us; just in case that sounds trite and easy, we also remembered that this love was tested in the white heat of the cross!

There are other reference points:
  • when thinking about Church, the key reference point for me is that Church has to be for everyone, accessible for everyone, of all ages and stages in our community.
  • the credit crunch and all this talk about money that we've lost as share prices have crashed has to be seen in the light of the strong things that Jesus said about money and its hold over us.
  • some of us work long hours and inevitably other parts of life are affected by that; family, church, leisure - it is important to have some kind of reference point that makes us consider, over and over again, where our priorities lie and what is ultimately important.
Every map has a North point on it somewhere. You may not be heading north; you may be heading in a totally different direction, but North is (almost) always at the top. You may, of course, be one of these people who needs to turn the map around so that the map is facing in the same direction as you are heading. Nonetheless, the North point is always there and everything else takes its direction from it. A reference point is like the North point on a map. You don't always refer to it, but everything else is measured by it.

We may not talk about our reference points very much, but our whole life is measured from them. Our whole life is shaped by our own personal reference points: our faith, our family, our job, our attitudes - they are all in there somewhere; these are the points by which we have to measure all that we are and do.

By the way, the two reference points from yesterday - that Jesus died and rose again and the endless love of God - are for every life at every stage on the journey.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Trams, Trams, Trams

I'm really glad that I wasn't in Princes St on Wednesday! I'm even more grateful that I was not on a bus trying to get somewhere on the other side of Princes St. By all accounts, it was mayhem, chaos, gridlock! The question I keep hearing people ask is this: will it be worth it? Will the trams be worth all the chaos that we're having to endure?

Then yesterday, something else new was announced: all children aged 5-7 will be given free school meals. This is the latest initiative of the Scottish Government to try to improve the health of the Scottish people. It all sounds grand and I'm not getting involved in party politics here, but it was also said that there will be no new money to meet this initiative, but councils will have to implement it out of their existing money.

Today, I read the first newsletter from the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council. They want to hear the views of people like you and me on 4 issues that will be debated at the 2009 General Assembly. I have a problem - the questions! On Alcohol, drugs and addiction the first question is this "Should people in Scotland drink less?" and the second one is no better "Should alcohol cost more?" There are simple answers to these questions and it would be easy to answer them in that way; they are open to a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' - end of story!

There is a section entitled Ethics of Defence and the second question there is "Are we justified in spending the equivalent of building and running 1000 schools for the next 20 years on Trident nuclear weapons, which will probably never be used?" That question has the expected answer written all the way through it! That's not my point, though!

My point is this: it is easy to make pronouncement and even decisions without have thought the consequences through. It is easy to say 'every child should have a free meal at school' and very few people will quibble with that; most people see the value in giving children good, nutritious food; most people will not disagree with getting something for nothing! But someone has to pay for it; education budgets across the country are cash-strapped at present; young teachers are finding it hard to get jobs because Councils have no money to employ them and this will surely only make matters worse. Free school meals makes a good political headline, but what will the reality be?

The Trams make a good headline and look attractive in the video that I've seen several times on television. They seem a good way of getting quickly from one side of the city to another when they are up and running. However, did we expect the degree of disruption that the work is causing? Were we warned? Will it be worth it?

It is easy for people to tell me 'The Church should be doing...' and run off a long list of new initiatives that Juniper Green Church should be pursuing; the list of new initiatives is presented as being the way forward and without these, the Church will not be here in the future. It's so easy to make these grand pronouncements but implementing them can be a whole different matter. Time, energy, people are all required for new things; the willingness to change is a big ask for some people because they just don't like it.

What new thing would you like us to do? What will it cost in money, time, energy, people? Then tell me!
Don't stop generating new ideas! Then we really are dead! But consider this - will you be prepared to be the answer to your own prayers?