Friday, 25 October 2013

The road goes on, even when it seems to disappear

Recently, I have been reflecting on my call to ministry in the Church of Scotland. This is coming alongside looking at prayer and faith and justice in the lectionary readings the the last couple of weeks.

I have always had a deep sense of things being fair - it's not equity, but its about taking a person's circumstances, experiences and willingness to learn into account. It's also taking into account the variabilities in placements and the experiences which can be drawn from each one. That's why, for my formal placements, I chose to go to a wide range of churches. The Kirk is a diverse place and I wanted to gain experience in this diversity as far as I could. That doesn't even take into account my time 'up north.'

A few weeks ago I heard faith described as a windy road. When you are driving along that road, there are bends and dips and crests. Sometimes you have to concentrate so hard on the road that you loose track of the destination or the road seems to disappear over the hill. But you never doubt the road is there, you never imagine it will end in a dropping precipice where the tarmac seems to finish. And the destination is still there, it's just necessary to concentrate in the here and now to safely travel along. Yes, at the moment I do wonder where the road is heading and sometimes feel I'm looking at the here and now so much that I am loosing sight of the destination.

So I pray. I pray because I have to, I cannot help myself. I know it makes a difference, though exactly how I do not know. I also have others praying for me, even people where I think I should be praying for them (and I do).

Someone keeps reminding me that God's got my back. Right now, I trust that's the case - I cling to that. And I go on, not giving up, because I know I am on this journey because God has called me. I knew it would not be easy at times and know he does not test you more than you can cope with.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Citizen Scientist

So, here I was, looking for a 'distraction.' Something to do, which would be a break from study and ministry stuff. Something I could easily drop in and out of. Something I could do for as little or as long as I wanted.

I thought about getting a raspberry pi, relearning to program and creating a device for monitoring the temperature of the home brew. But I haven't got round to that (and we already own things which will do the job perfectly adequately.

I though about learning a musical instrument, but having never really had the notion before, found the idea a bit daunting. Also I didn't want to turn into one of those guitar strumming ministers who want to play in the praise band every week (shudders!).

I knew I didn't want to have a pile of reading to do. Yes, there are many classics I haven't read at all or since I was a child. But when my current job - student - pretty much entails reading all day, the last thing I want to do is read some more. And I love reading.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Spot suggested Snapshot Serengeti. Basically, there's 250 camera traps placed around the Serengeti, to monitor where prey and predators are and to see if prey will avoid good grazing where there is predators. Now, back in the days of film, the scientist would be getting 36 frames per camera. These days, maybe 300, 400, 500 per SD card?

So, the idea is the citizen scientist goes through the photos and, as best they can, identifies the animals present, how many there are and what they are doing. It's pretty straightforward to do and there's guides to help with the ID.

This will flag up the photos of interest for the researchers, freeing their time up to do just that, rather than sort through the 'grass moved' (i.e. nothing there) photos. From the citizen scientist's point-of-view, it's helping with important research and you might even identify a Dik Dik.

The project is part of a wider crowd sourced project, called Zooniverse. Its projects include transcribing ship logs and the Oxyrhynchus collection. So, why not have a look and see how you could contribute to important research, all from the comfort of your home.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Prayers in the Big Kirk

Today I had the privilege of leading mid-week prayers at the Big Kirk. This was the first time I'd lead any act of worship here nor have I lead this style before.

But there's a first time for everything. It was great that the minister asked me (well, she actually asked Spot and I, but he had his turn last week!). There are several people in the congregation who have a wee bit of worship experience and she's never heard me 'in action.'

Undaunted by the size of the space, combined with the historical significance of the place, I got on with the task in hand. Turning up, as is my want way too early, it gave me a chance to settle the nerves (or, perhaps not), place my notes on the lectern and get mic'd up. Having no pockets and the belt clip being very tight, this was a 2 person operation, but we got it sorted.

As the appointed time arrived, I let the assembled masses (crowd, no handful of people) know there was a small act of worship about to start. As the clock chimed, I looked up and 2 people had joined me (at least I wasn't talking to myself, and where 2 or more are gathered etc). Swallowing hard, I introduced myself and began the service.

I think it went well. I'm sure word will (or won't) get around. I know I was nervous, but hope that wasn't picked up. My voice did get louder and louder to compete with the ladies in the shop - really, can you not talk for 10 minutes? It's a good PA system, though. Just as well, for a space that big!

It's great to be asked (and trusted) to do these sort of things. I've said it before and I will say it again - the more experience I can get the better.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Lord bless you and keep you

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a friend's daughter's baptism. As with so many Church of Scotland baptisms, "The Lord Bless you and keep you" was sung by the congregation.

I like this tradition. The responsibility of teaching a person being baptised falls on the congregation, as well as the parents, in the Kirk's order. So, the blessing by the congregation, I believe, is a reflection of that intent. But, I know it threw others who had also been invited to the baptism. For some of them this either does not form part of their church tradition or they do not have a church connection.

So, is having this sung blessing being a bit partisan - we can work out that you're not in the Kirk because you don't know about this"? The way it just 'suddenly' happened at this baptism, that's certainly the impression those I have noted above had.

I wouldn't like to throw the baby out with the bath water (probably a bad phrase, when I'm reflecting on baptism), but I also don't like the idea of visitors feeling excluded in worship. Maybe there's a way of introducing the hymn, so not to patronise the 'regular' congregation, but let the visitors know why it's done (and allow them to look it up in the hymn book, if appropriate).

Definitely a balance I'll want to make when it's me offering the sacrament.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Foodbanks - why we should be proud and ashamed

A few weeks ago, I was visiting the shop where Every little helps. At the time, the local foodbank was there, inviting people to donate some non-perishable food for the bank. Now, this is where my rants come in.

The supermarket allowed the foodbank to do this. It is, after all, great publicity. Though all the food is donated by members of the public, I suspect a spin will be put on it, which will benefit them. At least, these days, they also donate 30% of the value of the donations to the foodbank, so they don't make a profit from the donations.

How very generous. So, that gives an indication of their profit margin and only comes on the back of criticism levelled at them from members of the public (including my Mum) who realised they were taking the credit for the donations, where they had not made them and had the added bonus of making money too.

Then, there is the attitude of those making the donations. I know, maybe I shouldn't have a go, but I will. Why is it so much of what I have seen being donated is from stores value range? Now, don't get me wrong, there are some value products which are just as good as others - a tin of tomatoes is pretty much the same. But I get the impression there's an element of thinking 'they should be grateful for what they get.'

I am quite sure those who receive a food parcel are very grateful. But, consider this. They will have been embarrassed, humiliated and degraded by having to have gone cap-in-hand for it. Surely getting some nice stuff would be a bit less humiliating and not kicking someone when they are down? Or maybe it would be nice for the parents to be able to give their children a wee treat just for the three days while they get themselves back on their feet?

And lastly, for now. Most foodbanks are heavily supported by churches - through volunteers, driving their set-up, looking for funding, providing premises, etc, etc. It's where the church should be. And it's sharing the good news in actions of love and generosity, not preaching. But, we as the seventh wealthiest nation in the world should be ashamed people cannot afford to feed themselves.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A wee bit overwhelmed

This is my final year at uni (at least for now - better be careful not to give God too good a laugh!). I always knew it would be a tough year. I already feel a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing.

There aren't many hours I need to be in classes, but there's a tsunami of reading that needs done. Given I have the same number of honours subjects as last year, this shouldn't be a problem, but I do have a dissertation to write too.

I don't even have placement this year, so that's one less thing I need to juggle. In so many ways, this should be easier.

I think, though, it is the lack of (potential) focus. Not needing to go into uni as often as I have in the last two years - which saves a fair whack of cash on commuting. I also can get as many cups of tea as I want at home, without the cost (or lack of size/flavour). I work best with a pint of tea every couple of hours or so (seriously).

I also know it's odd not seeing people around as much. It's a sad fact, but I could go a weeks not seeing some of my friends and colleagues at uni. Perhaps this is a lesson I need to learn - to consciously make an effort to meet with friends for a cuppa or lunch, to catch up and generally just be mates blethering together. I know I will need their support and friendship when I'm doing this stuff through probation and 'for real'.