Friday, 31 July 2009

We have no time to stand and stare!

"What is this life if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?"

The opening lines of a poem called Leisure by William Henry Davies. It is a bit of the idyllic rural life; the reader is urged to stand and stare at the countryside to appreciate its beauty and that's not always easy for the confirmed city-dweller. Walk along the Water of Leith and appreciate the beauty of the green space!

But there are other ways of standing and staring at important things that we tend to forget.

What about the quality of our relationships? We all meet so many people who are rushing from one thing to the next that we forget to develop and nurture the quality of our relationships with other people. The activities in which we are engaged are all probably good and laudable, but where is the time to stop and appreciate the people closest too us, rather than take them for granted.

What about our faith? When do we take time to stand and stare at God, if you see what I mean. Bible reading and prayer (if we do them at all) are often rushed, a minute before hurrying out of the door to work. Church is, even for committed Christians, sidelined in the midst of a whole range of other activities. How do we create space in a Church service simply to 'stand and stare', to be quiet and take time to be amazed all over again at God?

Jesus told us that there are two important principles never to be lost: love God and love other people. Take time this weekend to foster both of these; it will be up to you how you do it; ideas on a postcard... or the comments page...

Friday, 24 July 2009

Bibles, Bibles, Bibles!

The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow has an exhibition running that invites people to scrawl messages on the pages of the Bible. It is an exhibition about injustice and exclusion and encourages people who consider themselves excluded by the Churches or by Bible teaching to get their own back by writing angry and anti-Christian messages on the open pages of a bible. Needless to say, Christian groups are outraged. The reporter from Reporting Scotland last night asked the director of the gallery if they would have done this to the Koran; his answer was less than direct!

Over the weekend, we have also witnessed the first ferry to sail to and from Stornoway on a Sunday. For some, this was a great victory over the power of the Church to subdue the people and so Sunday is liberated from the constraints of Christian teaching. For others, this is the end of a honourable tradition of obedience to the commands of God and the Sabbath will never be the same again. Jean and I spent a Sunday in Lewis when we were on holiday: on a sunny summer Sunday, there was just nobody about; there were no children playing in the garden; the swings were padlocked and the play-areas closed for the day. I leave you to decide which of the two 'victories' you might support.

These two stories are linked in my mind because they make me think about my attitude to the bible. I love it; its teaching has changed my life; its teaching should shape my life more than it does, but that's my fault, not the fault of the Bible. I love to preach its 'unsearchable riches' because the message of the Bible brings freedom and salvation, brings liberty and fullness of life to human hearts. It bothers me that only 1 in 10 Christians in Scotland can make the time to read the Bible on a regular basis. How can we be the people God wants us to be unless we read our Bible?

But, the bible also bothers me. It bothers me because it is always asking me questions that I don't find easy to answer. It tells me that there are certain ways of living that are good and right and I would agree with that, but then it challenges me to consider those who are excluded and who are victims of injustice in the society of which I am a part. It tells me, that as a Christian, there are certain things I should hold dear and should be priorities, such as worship on Sunday, but then it shows me the figure of Jesus challenging the rules and regulations of the Pharisees, telling me that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27,28)

A wise professor was addressing a group of students who were keen to have him get involved in this kind of debate about the Bible. One of the students said to him, "tell us, professor; where do you stand on the Bible?" He looked at the group and said, quite quietly, "I do not stand on the Bible; I sit under it!" That's not just a seat for theology professors; that's a seat for every Christian, to sit under the teaching of the Bible.

This year sees the bicentenary of the Scottish Bible Society. As part of their celebrations, there is a special appeal to raise money for Bibles for Brazil. Some of what we hear and read in Scotland might make us cynical about the Bible, because of the tensions and debates it causes. Yet, let's never forget, this is the book that contains the words of life for us; this is the book, whose messages changes people's lives; this is the book that shows us what God is like and what he has done for us in Jesus.

If it is not your regular habit to read the Bible, I urge you to begin; if it is your regular habit already, then I urge you to make sure that you take to heart what you read. 1 in 10 Christians in Scotland read the bible regularly; the other 9 have a Bible on the shelf gathering dust. What is your Bible doing?