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!

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!

Want to study the reformation for free?

If you have ever wanted to know more about the 16th Century Reformation and is lasting effect today, why not try the free course at the Khan Academy. It reviews the whole history of that era in a non-partisan way by exploring the personalities, politics and theologies involved. There is also the opportunity to comment and ask questions of this ‘sea-change’ that still influences Christian witness here and now.

 

Here is its link:

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/history/1500-1600-Renaissance-Reformation/protestant-reformation/a/an-introduction-to-the-protestant-reformation

 

Good studying !

The Oldest Land Grab?

Growing Cucumbers

land grab poster

land grab poster

King Ahab lived in Samaria in a royal palace.

King Ahab liked growing things.

The palace gardens were full of fruits
and vegetables. There were beans and
apples and grapes and dates and figs
and melons and leeks and olives and
lentils and pomegranates and onions
and pistachio nuts. The problem was
that the garden was so full of fruits
and vegetables that there was no
room to plant anything else, and King
Ahab fancied having a go at growing
cucumbers. What could he do? There
was nothing for it. He needed a bigger
garden.
Next door to the palace lived a man
called Naboth. Naboth liked growing
grapes and making wine and Naboth
had a big vineyard. Ahab asked Naboth
if he would sell him his vineyard. Naboth,
whose family had owned the vineyard for
years, said no.
King Ahab went home. He was cross and
then he was sad and then he curled up on
his bed and cried.
That night Queen Jezebel, Ahab’s wife,
waited for Ahab to come down to dinner
and he didn’t come. Jezebel was hungry so
she ate her dinner and then went to find
Ahab.
She found him in his bedroom and asked
him what was going on. Ahab told her all
about wanting a new vegetable garden in
which to plant his cucumbers and about
Naboth telling him he would not sell his
land.
Jezebel was not impressed. “You’re a king,”
she told Ahab, “You can have whatever
you want. Now stop crying and go and eat
your dinner and leave Naboth to me.”
The next day Jezebel found some men
who she paid to tell lies about Naboth.
Then she forged Ahab’s signature on some
royal documents and had Naboth killed
and his lands given to the king.
That night Jezebel told Ahab what she’d
done.
Ahab was shocked. He knew what
Jezebel had done was wrong. But he had
got his new garden and that was what
he really wanted. Did it matter how he’d
got it?
The next morning Ahab went next door
into Naboth’s vineyard. He walked along
the paths between the grapevines and
began to plan where he was going to
plant his cucumbers. He turned a corner
and he met Elijah the prophet.
Elijah was not interested in cucumbers.
He was there to tell Elijah that God said
that hurting people to get what you
want was wrong.
And King Ahab knew that Elijah was
right.

(from Spill the Beans Issue 8)

Who said that the Old Testament is irrelevant today? Well, actually, many people – sometimes myself included. For, with its complex stories of strange customs, religious laws and palace intrigues, it seems at best ‘dated’ – a bit in the mould of Austin, Dickens or Trollope.

Yet the Bible portion above ise bang up to date. For, there is no greater generic global problem than with disputed land ownership. We see it big-style in Zimbabwe and Burma, we cannot forget Israel-Palestine and it is even here in minor ways in Bonnie Scotland.

Yet, the Holy land is a good place to start. Since there is huge irony in this story of the illegal taking of land, as Elijah’s ancestors did exactly that to the original Canaanite population! And whilst I do not think, claiming divinely ordained ownership is at all helpful in resolving the conflicts in the Middle East, we do at least see certain issues of justice being played out in these readings – played out in a way that speaks volumes for our own times.

Because certainly Naboth owned his land – ground that he indeed considered to have been given him by God himself. And although King Ahab’s initial offer was fair even generous, it was well within the vineyard’s owners rights to refuse. It is the next episode that is the problem. For, Ahab reigns over his people through the divine covenant – the rule of law if you like. In modern parlance then, there is a legal framework in place to prevent arbitrary acts of injustice. However, now enters Jezebel who by being foreign was always likely to be cast as a nasty piece of work. She comes from a race where despotic rulers are the norm. And so she would dearly like to do as she likes without legal restraint. She can’t – so she uses the law to her own ends. She stirs up some impression of a national crisis thus the need for a day of fasting. Then she trumps up charges against the unfortunately Naboth which carries the death penalty under the law of Moses. As a result, he is executed and she gets the vineyard. Game, set and match we might say.

Proof then that using, bending or abusing the law to unjustly gain land is a wheeze that is as old as the hills.

But our bibles make also clear that such acts of chicanery are seen by God. Moreover, they are judged by God’s own sense of innate justice. For Elijah pronounces that it is not only land that is gifted by the divine but so is power and wealth, inheritance and even life itself. In fact, he makes all too clear that we forget this to our peril.

Not unpredictably then – in due course Ahab comes literally to a stick end at the battle of Ramoth Gilead. Afterwards his chariot was turned into his hearse with dogs licking up the spare blood! Elijah’s milk curdling foresight indeed had gruesomely come to pass.

Nevertheless, we do say quietly to ourselves I couldn’t possibly stand in Brook Street blaring our fiery damnation! A stiff letter to the Courier in ‘Elijah speak’ would raise too many eyebrows. Worse still, what happens when I denounce the powerful thieves of this world and they remain unscathed!

But with thought, we realise that Elijah’s prophecy is less crystal ball gazing than telling how it tends to be. Bad people don’t always have their come up pence but they often do. And their seeds of their destruction are usually in through their own hands. Their arrogance goes a step beyond the law. Their overturning of the law leaves them as vulnerable as their victims. The sword they live and profit by finds an even more lawless wielder. Or, as Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘Man for all seasons’ counsels an ardent supporter keen to overthrow the law this time for a good purpose:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

Put more directly, we just need to keep any eye out from injustice and then say – in the Lord’s name I warn you – I warn you that he who lights the fire must surely burn.

And this takes us strangely to the Amazonian rain forest. For the Kayapo tribe are an indigent people living in the depths of the jungle. However, their homeland is about to be flooded for a hydro electric dam. They fought the land grab by their government through the courts and in the public media. They cited the law that native peoples cannot be moved. But their rulers have stated that this is trumped by national security and so an area three times as bio-diverse as Europe is to be lost. Also over 40, 000 humans lose their homes and their unique way of life.

Elijah I suspect would have something to say about the misuse of the law. He would have spoken out for God’s justice not least for those unable to resist the powerful and greedy. Yet he probably would not have given the warnings we can. For knowing civilisation’s way of progress, we need to proclaim that any government’s survival is directly proportional to how it treats all its peoples. With history’s witness, we can point out that prosperity based on unjust if technically lawful actions is no lasting wealth at all. And right up to date, we could ask, backed by science, with the loss of so many rare species of plants, how many cures for diseases that you might one day need are you destroying?

A man asked this week in a newspaper – should he leave his well paid but morally bankrupt job behind? Elijah has for him an answer. And so to rulers, who are similarly tempted to be devoid of humanity, honesty and integrity have Elijah’s answer. And it is be warned by Naboth vineyard. It is to fear God’s judgement and always to think of a just harvest.  Indeed it is to plot less for the dregs of greed and cultivate more the finest vintage of a more lawful kingdom.

How to fly in faith

wright_brothersDon’t’ you really admire inventors who to put their lives on the line for their idea. This was certainly the case for two staunchly Christian brothers. They were of course Orville and Wilbur Wright. For these two American brothers, inventors, and aviation pioneers are credited with  inventing the world’s first successful aeroplane.  Whilst some dispute this, certainly they are believed to have made he first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.

This was on 17 December  1903, it lasted 12 seconds and the aircraft  with Orville on board got a mere 120 feet. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is – for Orville and on the next 3 flights Wilbur could have been killed or seriously injured.

However such faith did not come quickly  or easily. Since the brothers started their leap into the unknown  when they gained the mechanical skills by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. From 1900 until  their first powered flights 3 years later, they conducted extensive glider tests.They even built a small wind tunnel to gather more accurate data than any before, enabling them to design more efficient wings and propellers.

Put another way, invention like faith is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration and a dash of panache for good measure!

 Here then is a reminder of how we deal with faith in our lives.

For if recently that flame has burned low or you feel a bit distant from God then remember to make the effort to phone home.

Remember to look persistently for Christ’s presence in your lives.

Remember like all relationships, it takes elbow grease to keeping it working.

Yet even more important,  it really does help, also to go flying with it.

Since there is no greater builder of certainty  than actually doing something novel, exhilarating even risky only in trust.

Have a good flight today! iss028e015556_small

Sparing a thought for those in peril..

During the British National Suicide Prevention week spare a thought and a prayer for those who suffer so badly they would take their own life.

 

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