What is the Scottish Vision?

saltireJohn Drane explores a new spiritual vision for Scotland when he writes….

The first thing to say is that Scotland is not the same as England! We have different legal, educational, and healthcare systems from our nearest neighbours, and soon we might even be a foreign country. Our churches are also different.

Anglicans are Scottish Episcopalians. The national church, the Church of Scotland, is Presbyterian. And whatever you do, don’t confuse the Free Church of Scotland with the Free Churches in England! But the challenges and opportunities with which our churches are wrestling are the same as everywhere else in the developed countries of the western world.

The difficulties facing our churches are by no means unique, though we do have some distinctive historical baggage: in common with other European countries where the Reformation had a more stridently puritanical flavour than in England, Scotland is arguably a more secular country than other parts of the UK and many people are openly cynical about the role of religious institutions. Rapid and discontinuous cultural change has also taken its toll on traditional church life and though there are pockets of new life, in many places the story is one of declining numbers and aging congregations.

More than a decade ago, the Church of Scotland’s Church without Walls report (2001) gave a focus for new thinking about the nature of a missional church. In 2011 another report (Reformed, Reforming, Emerging and Experimenting), which I jointly authored with Olive Fleming Drane, documented the emergence of new forms of Christian faith community and highlighted the need for fresh thinking that would recognise these ventures within the structures of the church.

As the Joint Emerging Church Group of the Ministries Council and the Mission and Discipleship Council reflected on all this, the obvious conclusion was that the Church of Scotland should become a partner in Fresh Expressions. One church leader recently suggested that this is the first time since the Reformation that the Church of Scotland and the Church of England have collaborated on specifically missional issues (as distinct from social and political matters). I have no idea whether that is entirely true, but it is undoubtedly a momentous opportunity for churches on both sides of the border.

Of course, Fresh Expressions has been represented right from the start in Scotland through those congregations that belong to the Methodist Church and more recently the URC and Salvation Army. They will welcome the Church of Scotland’s partnership, not least because the Kirk is numerically dominant over all other Protestant denominations (seven or eight times bigger than all the rest put together) and when it embraces something, that often creates an environment in which others can flourish more easily.

Unlike other denominations though, the Church of Scotland has a presence throughout the country. So this is a significant moment for those who are concerned with the re-evangelisation of Scotland. Central to this vision is an invitation to every parish to explore the possibilities of establishing an appropriately contextualised fresh expression of church by the year 2020 – something that will hopefully be pursued in an ecumenical context.

This will be a major challenge to many congregations, where change of any sort can seem alien and threatening. But a growing number of people have already glimpsed new possibilities and are eager to push forward with a new vision.

Since 2010, more than 200 individuals of all denominations have completed the mission shaped ministry course in Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, whilst vision days have taken place in other locations. The new partnerships will hopefully create spaces in which these people will be released to be in the vanguard of the development of fresh expressions in both urban and rural locations.

For there is no doubt that – especially at this time of national uncertainty, as we consider our relationship with the rest of the UK – our people need a new spiritual vision that will take us forward into what by any definition is an unknown future, to hear the gospel afresh in ways that will be comprehensible within today’s culture while also remaining true to the call of Jesus.

All very fine – but what is the vision and more to the point how do we make it happen?

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Why not try Life Journalling?

Scott Longyear writes:

 

‘Life Journalling is pretty simple. It is a system of daily Bible reading followed by writing some thoughts. I Journal each morning. Sometimes it is dry and tough to pull some application out, sometimes the heavens seem to open and I get some incredible insights for the things I am struggling with. By Life Journalling I am allowing the Spirit of God to speak through the scriptures and bend my life to be in tune with what God is speaking. For a worship leader, daily time with God is a non-negotiable.’books1

 

Worth a try!

Who is a good Samaritan today?

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10.25-37

busy_samaritan

My grandfather used to say – he never knew how ignorant he was until his family grew up and told him. Well, I didn’t realise how ignorant I was until I encounter this story… the story of the Good Samaritan. Since, it has to be said that, in the past I have always taken the term Samaritan for granted. In truth, it meant to me little more than a good friend in time of dire need; I knew also of that wonderful organisation of listeners to people in distress and with thought I would recall the biblical people as long forgotten as the tribes of the Old Testament.

So nothing done, I just had to research the Samaritans and the land of Samaria for this morning. It turns out that their history is a complex one as was their reasons from breaking away from main stream Judaism around the time of the Babylonian exile. Then, about a thousand years later, many converted to Islam in the middle-ages. As a result today there are only 800 followers of the Samaritan religion. Yet despite that small number their modern story connects well with the Good Samaritan of Christ’s parable. For their homeland of Samaria is in the central inland bit of the Holy Land. Nowadays, we would say it is in the occupied West Bank. As a result we can make the Good Samaritan story much more poignant for ourselves – here and now – by thinking of Jesus teaching us of the Palestinian rescuing the beaten up Israeli. Quite an object lesson that would be I am sure you will agree!

Nevertheless, to get the full sense of a current meaning to the Good Samaritan we must leave Israel-Palestine and return home. Since, even here in ‘we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ Scotland, we surely cannot deny that there are divisions, there are ‘them’s and us’, and there are indeed ‘oors and theirs’. And so if we were to rewrite the Samaritan’s, Jew’s and inn keeper’s stories we could fill in the blanks with our own dislikes, prejudices and ‘just can’t stands’. Worse still if we were really being honest we could recount the parable for people that leave us outwardly accepting but inwardly uncomfortable of. The people that leave us feeling a tad two-faced as well as a smidgeon prejudiced.

To make my point I turn to a story towards the end of a church-initiated Conference about multi-faith relations.  One

of the speakers asked those attending if they would be willing to pray for someone of another faith, for example if a Muslim

asked for us to pray for their family. A minister in the audience put his hand up and said ‘yes, of course I would be more than happy to do that—I’ll pray for anyone’. Then, the speaker asked the

minister if he would be happy to ask a Muslim to pray for him. An uncomfortable silence followed.

However the sharpest point of the Samaritan story is less to do with reminding us that all humans are our neighbours and more to do something even more challenging. Because the story does not refute the idea that there are saintly people and bad people, courageous people and cowardly people even wise and silly people. Quite the reverse, it affirms that humanity is a spectrum of spectrums. But, it also illustrates that it is daft to try and predict people’s character and behaviour by their labels. Since, we surely would have ticked for the good column the priest and Levite whilst possibly putting the heretical foreigner in another box entirely. In essence, this story makes us more and not less ask the question who is my neighbour and then be startled by the answer.

When we were visiting France many years ago, we meet a lady who had grown up in Glasgow after her father came to Britain during the war. She related to us a story of her Grandparents who had remained behind in occupied France. In this story a most unlikely Good Samaritan featured. Because, she told us that her grandparents had had two German officers and their batman billeted on them. The ‘German brass’ were very harsh on the young soldier and, as a result, the French couple rather took him under their wing. After all, with their son away, they must have recalled he was someone’s son as well.

One night, he came to them alone. He said yesterday I heard you listening to the Free French Radio. This was indeed a very serious offence. Now, the lad went on – I am not going to say anything – but those two certainly would. The radio went into the river that night.

Who then was that young enemy soldier’s neighbour? Who was that French man and woman’s neighbour? Who indeed in this crazy mixed up world is having mercy on us?

Now go and do likewise!

How to keep life simple

Just recently I was recalling to someone my childhood family doctors. They were Drs Kerr Brown and McNeish. They practiced from their houses in Deniston in Glasgow. Once, when I had earache, I was taken down to see them. I already had almond oil put in the offending orifice, then before venturing into the winter evening a piece of new flannel embalmed my head. Next went my woolly balaclava. And finally my pride and joy – my red school cap – surmounted the whole ensemble!

 

No wonder when I arrived at the surgery, Mrs McNeish who acted as the doctors’ receptionist – Oh Graham what a lot of hats you’ve got on.

 

Somehow, back then, infant ailments were treated more simply. Somehow life seemed in general less complex.  Somehow knowing what do was easier.

 

Well to some degree the information explosion and the knowledge economy has increased life’s intricacy. Since these have brought in a greater understanding of the physical world around us, the society in which we live and even of our own personalities and biology. Also, the constant stream of news and views bring a multitude of opinions to our attention. Moreover, powerful pressure groups such as politicians, businesses and charities vey hourly for our ears, eyes and available neurons

 

And whilst it is laudable to be well informed, if we are not careful we run the risk of falling into the trap of Naaman ’s syndrome.

And what is that?

Well, in the end of the day, we have to admit that Naaman the General in Old Testament was a powerful, rich and probably imposing man. He wasn’t in the habit of going third class. So when he heard that his not just life threatening but socially excluding disease could be cured practically for nothing he was outraged. Such cures are for the peasants, he surely deserved something better, something more sophisticated or at least more expensive. It was as if he was blinded to the pure and simple truth. He could not see the obvious before his very eyes.

 

 

Here then is the Naaman syndrome! And it is to believe that good things must be expensive or complex. You get what you pay for we hear said often. Alternatively, if it is straight forward it must be biased, if it is cheap it is invariably nasty; if it’s free it must be rubbish.

 

So how do we live in a world where we are bombarded complexity and yet still see the pure unvarnished truth of its cure?

 

When Matt Taylor comes on the box with his BBC forecast, have you ever thought that weather forecasters have the coolest toys? They have satellite “eyes in the sky.” They can track off-shore flows and coastal disturbances, high pressure systems and low pressure cells, the rise and fall of the jet stream and even see rain on radars.

 

Added to that, television weather people have the most interesting screens to work with, with all kinds of magic features to make this or that bigger and smaller. Forecasting then the weather is complicated and growing more so with the years. Yet the truth is living with the weather is not.

 

Since in the last few month parts of this country have been under water, parts of this country have had a drought and parts of this country have been swept away by gales. All the meteorological explanations and predictions in the world don’t change the simple truth. For the uncomplicated truth of how to deal with the weather is:

 

If you are in a flood zone—get to higher ground.

If you need water – ship it in.

If there is a gale coming, lash things down.

If it’s too warm – stay still and enjoy it!

 

No matter how complex the weather system then, your best response is simple and straightforward. Indeed, the most complicated part is doing the simple.

 

Something similar was the thinking of Jesus when he sent out his disciples. They went out with the simple truth that the Kingdom of God is near. Despite the theological complexities then, all that people need do was see it. They went out to proclaim that God’s will being done is the way to a better world. Despite all the religious regulations then, it was simply a matter of lives following that will. They went out to exclaim that the reign of God is here. Despite all the political controversies then, the only unsullied way is the doorway of Christ Jesus.

There then is a masterly rejection of the Neman syndrome!

There is a perfect lesson in the engineering principle of Kiss – keep it simple, stupid.

 

There is a perfect illustration of the unpretentious action of a man with an unsightly rock in his garden.

Because, there is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the centre of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking.

 

A neighbour asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvellous likeness of an elephant?”

 

The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like an elephant!”

 

 

And so when we try to come to terms with boulder-like complexities of 21st Century Britain – let us chip away with the chisel of the gospel. When we are beset by global conflicting arguments, reasons and explanations, let us see the simple actions decided by God’s will. When are tried to the limit by inner conflicts, let us do the obviously pure.

 

For then we cure ourselves, shape ourselves and bless ourselves into the most beautiful of shapes – the shape of Jesus himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly God’s Dream!

God giving us everything we need to dream the dream, dream our dream, dream his dream!K21_glider

And by way of personal illustration, I can prove that last point. Since although I haven’t flown solo in a glider for many years, I recently felt that I must get this capability back. Yet my somewhat sporadic attendance at the gliding club resulted in very slow progress. Well, on Monday, my first flight’s landing left much to be desired. The second mercifully much improved. Nevertheless I remained unsure if my instructor was going to let me go on my own. Imagine my pleasure if slight apprehension when, as we talked of putting the glider into the hanger, he said to me – do you want to nip in and a have few launches on your own.

The proof then – that  I not only had the instructor’s affirmation but also the necessary skills to fulfil the dream – is that I am standing here in once piece. So too with anyone wanting to follow Jesus. Because doubtless you have heard the call to God’s service. You also have been given all that is necessary to soar high and make a safe landing. Moreover, to Christ’s offer you have undoubtedly said a big yes – yes I want too. For otherwise, why are you here reading this?

So now go and dream the dream!

Elijah and Chaos Theory

It could be in your newspapers today. Its a story about a middle-eastern morpho-butterflycountry with a dynasty of dictators running it. And as these rulers get cruel and lawless so do the people. Until one faction breaks away and before we know it there’s a civil war. This doesn’t, of course, stop the struggle for power and the rot of corruption. So what is held dear – what is revered if you like – gets more rancid by the day.

 

But then something happens which is not so much unexpected as utterly bizarre. Since from nowhere, into the despot’s palace pops a man who is honest. He says – What you are doing is against God’s will. The reply he gets is – see if I could care but you better watch out my friend. Nevertheless our honest man is also courageous one as well. Since he then speaks like the Sky weather forecaster. He predicts that the rain ain’t going to fall no more. Now that isn’t much of a curse in Scotland but in hot countries where water politics is big business, he is chancing his arm a bit too far. And so he makes himself scare and relying on God’s guidance stays on the run for a few years as the endless drought takes it toll of humans, animals and crops.

 

And that brings us roughly up to date with Elijah and his current CV.

 

No wonder when as a refugee he approached a single parent just surviving with a sickly son in this most sickly season, he had every right to expect to be sent packing. Yet he was not. In fact, he asked for help and out of this woman’s poverty he received it. Then in turn she also received aid and her son even got his life back. And so together through the long cruel heat-wave they held on – they survived – they got through it.

 

What then does this tell us today?

 

Mercifully, we do not live in strife torn places such as Syria, Iraq and Somalia. We do not live in famine struck areas such as sub-saharan Africa. But we do live in a time in our nation of hardship even of food poverty. We do walk past the doorstep of the hungry parent of the ill child.

 

It is therefore worth noting the deeper story within this story. Because did you notice, there was no religious language used. There was no judgment calls made. There was no conditions set or budgets considered. There was only one in need and one with compassion. And that was enough. That was enough to change both the lives of Elijah and the widow, it was enough to change the world they lived in even by a microscopic amount. In fact, it was that interchange mercy that created a quantum step away from the cesspit of dog eat towards true community. Or as Christ might express it – they contributed a smidgen to moving a living hell towards the coming of the Kingdom of God.

 

Yet we can still be a bit perplexed as to how such a little event can alter the whole picture.

 

 

 

Well, I heard it said this week that material things come and go but ideas are can never be destroyed once they are talked about! Take the one that was hugely popular a few decades back called chaos theory. Basically it said that everything no matter how small has an effect on everything else. More interesting, even small changes set up new conditions that might just result in massive outcomes down the line. As a result, small happenings can trigger others to give a chain reaction with unforeseen consequences. The classic illustration given at the time was that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rain forest causing a typhoon in the China Sea. All a bit far fetched maybe. But even if none of us can alter bad situations a lot, we can least try to alter it a little. For then we improve someone else’s world more than we imagine.

 

Nevertheless, trying to change things even a little, speaking truth to power even a little, asking or giving help even a little seems difficult.

 

But that forgets this story.

 

There was a tightrope walker, who did incredible aerial feats. All over Paris, he would do tightrope acts at tremendously scary heights. Then he had succeeding acts; he would do it blindfolded, then he would go across the tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow. An American promoter read about this in the papers and wrote a letter to the tightrope walker, saying, “Whilst I don’t believe you can do it, I’m willing to make you an offer. And it is for a very substantial sum of money, besides all your transportation fees, I would like to challenge you to do your act over Niagara Falls.” The tightrope walker wrote back, “Sir, although I’ve never been to America and seen the Falls, I’d love to come.” Well, after a lot of promotion and setting the whole thing up, many people came to see the event. The dare-devil was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. Drums roll, and he comes across the rope which is suspended over the most treacherous part of the falls blindfolded!! And he makes it across easily. The crowds go wild, and he comes to the promoter and says, “Well, Mr. Promoter, now do you believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do. I mean, I just saw you do it.” “No,” said the tightrope walker, “do you really believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do, you just did it.” “No, no, no,” said Tightrope, “do you believe I can do it?” “Yes,” said Mr. Promoter, “I believe you can do it.” “Good,” said Tightrope, “then you get in the wheel barrow.”

 

Well if today we feel daunted at taking a small step that could result in a revolution, then here is the story to challenge, prod and to inspire. For if we call ourselves Christians we do need to get into the wheel barrow. We need to get into the wheel barrow to allow Christ to act through us via faith, courage and compassion. We need to get into the wheel barrow and trust that with Christ we will start a waterfall by giving a little and taking a little. We need to get into the wheel barrow and expect to reach the God’s side – for there alone will we discover needy lives changed, fallen nations purified and an arid universe refreshed forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to break a record today!

k7flipDuring our recent holiday in the Lake District, we saw two exhibitions dedicated to Malcolm and Donald Campbell. The first at the Lakeland Motor Museum had replicas of the Bluebird cars of father and son and the Bluebird K7 boat in which latter lost his life. More poignant, at the Ruskin Museum, were the various fragments of the actual Bluebird boat recovered from Coniston Water after Donald’s crash trying to keep his grasp of his own World Water Speed Record. This display in the village of Coniston also had his helmet and flying suit recorded with his remains in 2001. It is sad to think that when his boat literally became airborne from the glass-like surface of the water he was already travelling faster than any other human being afloat at over 300 mph.

Almost as sad is that this doomed yet heroic attempted seemed to close a era of the daring individual in favour of large teams  of specialists. For I suspect we shall never see such lone endeavours again.

But there is a lesson here for every congregation across Scotland. For the epoch of going it alone has definitely closed for them too. For if we are to face down and conquer the challenges ahead we will team work; team work of a whole congregation contributing their skills and abilities, teamwork of congregations helping across the whole tapestry of the Church’s community and teamwork of all denominations to witnessing the reality of Christ’s kingdom in its communal  word and deed.

 

At the Ruskin Museum I met an Australian who had seen Donald Campbell the day before his successful first attempt at the water record. He said he always regretted not going to see this feat the next day. Let us then not have any regrets of making insufficient efforts now at teamwork since then we will not miss our own record breaking for the gospel’s sake.

 

 

Read if you are in a dark place!

Carlyle Marney was one of the great preachers in the Southern states of America during the time after the Second World War. He was a mentor and role model to many ministers. One of the stories attributed to the rich legacy he left behind took place on a seminary campus where he was invited to be the speaker for a distinguished lectureship. One of the students asked, “Dr. Marney let us hear you say a word or two about the meaning of the resurrection.” It was a fair question and an appropriate one from a future preacher to one who was already a great practitioner of the art of preaching. However the young  students were taken aback by Marney’s response. Dr. Marney replied, “I will not discuss that with people like you.” Continue reading

Poem for times of trouble

I found this on my Facebook page today:

 

We who were once far off,9994-sunrise-at-orvieto-umbria-italy-free-landscape-and-scenic-desktop_531x331
who wandered as if
in a wilderness,
searching for water,
desperate for shade,
now rest in your embrace,
feast on your word,
drink from a well
that will never run dry,
and have found the place
we were searching for,
as Christ has brought us home.