Friday, 26 March 2010

When we stop listening...?

Does the Bible frighten you? It frightens me at times! Some people are frightened by the Bible and reading it and studying it with other people because they think they'll show how little they understand it. I'm not frightened by the bits I don't understand; I'm frightened (at times!) by the bits I do understand. Maybe 'frightened' isn't the right word, but disturbed certainly is, and challenged!

At Church Wednesday this week, we were looking at Acts 15, the story of the Council of Jerusalem, when the apostles and others had a bit issue to resolve - how does someone become a Christian and become part of the Church? For faith in Jesus, by the grace of God, on the one hand or by being circumcised? They had to resolve this conflict, these two views, because the Church couldn't have both. In the end, they decided that by for faith, by grace, was enough and that has been the good news ever since.

It was the process by which they arrived at that decision that fascinated me. The Church listened to one another, to those who had one opinion and to those who had the other opinion. Then they listened to the Bible and what it had to say. Then they made their wise decision.

One question that we had no time to tackle, but is fascinating, is 'what happens when Christians stop listening to one another?' I've seen it happen: there are people in Edinburgh Presbytery, who when they stand up to speak, you can see others switch off; on principle they will not listen to this person because 'he has nothing good to say'. I've detected at times elsewhere too, when someone is speaking, others are not listening and they betray that by either repeating almost word for word what has just been said, or by totally ignoring the previous contribution to the discussion.

The result is that we adopt 'positions'; we think we know what others have said, but in fact we've got it wrong. It's more of a recipe for conflict than for conciliation.

I have a colleague who, when he was Moderator of Caithness Presbytery, used to make a great show of consulting the Clerk about something in the middle of someone else's speech. I'm convinced it was all show, but it used to annoy me intensely because it was obvious that he wasn't listening to the debate. If nothing else, it was totally impolite.

I don't have a worked-out answer to this issue, but it really is very simple. We need to listen to one another properly; no 'bull-in-the-chinashop' kinds of behaviour.

We've not even begun to talk about reading body language....

Here's another question - what happens when we stop listening to God?

Friday, 12 March 2010

Creativity, Energy, Achievement

On last Sunday afternoon, I was standing at the corner of Belmont Road and Baberton Avenue at 2pm. My wife and I, along with a good number of other people, had gone to the unveiling of the new Juniper Green standing stone. It was unveiled by the two youngest primary 1 pupils from Juniper Green School and two slightly older former pupils of the school. Alison Sheridan from the National Museum of Scotland spoke and the whole event was conducted by Cliff Beevers. If you've not seen the stone yet, it is well worth a look. for more details!

The monument is a legacy of the very successful Juniper Green 300 project that happened in 2007. This year-long project told so much of the history of Juniper Green over the last 300 years, drawing people from all over the world to participate. At the end of 2007, a lasting memorial to the village was suggested and last Sunday was the climax of that whole process.

I occasionally attended the meetings of the steering group. I don't think I've ever come across a group of people with more ideas; they sat round the table simply being creative, imagining ideas and suggesting activities by the barrow-load. Remarkably, most of these ideas were done. not only was this group creative in generating ideas, but they also followed them through and achieved a significant number of them. "Can't do that" didn't often appear in their discussions. I don't think I've ever come across such a "can-do" attitude anywhere else. It was time-limited, only for one year, but nevertheless...

In a similar vein, Girlguiding celebrates 100 years this year. Here's another group of people with huge ideas and putting so many into practice: the launch at the Scottish Parliament, having walked down the Royal Mile in procession; a giant Hoe-down at Ingliston a couple of weeks ago with girls from all over Scotland; the Brownies are taking over Edinburgh Castle in May; some leaders are taking part in the Caledonian Challenge on the West Highland Way; etc; etc; etc. Again, here is a group of people with lots of creativity and energy, who will achieve so much for the girls and their organisation in 2010. It all finishes at 2010 on October 20th this year.

Churches need people with creative new ideas; society needs leaders who are creative and full of energy. They need to be applauded and encouraged; without creative people, full of energy, our lives would be poorer and we would achieve far less!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Aren't Snowdrops wonderful?!

We have some snowdrops in the garden and, to be honest, they are just about the only colour there is other than brown and a sort of washed-out green! They came up and out just before the last lump of snow and are growing through ground that is almost rock-hard! Yet there they are, year after year, in the same place; they're almost impossible to kill! Snowdrops are even a tourist attraction: there is a snowdrop trail, gardens that you can visit at this time of year to admire the snowdrops; Cambo, near St Andrews even has the snowdrops lit up at night so that you can keep visiting after dark.

I think I admire the resilience of the snowdrop. It is such a small flower, but it comes up through frozen ground, at a time of year when every other plant wants to hibernate, in weather conditions that make me want to hibernate! They are battered by the wind, squashed by the snow, attacked by the frost and the rain. Yet they still survive to flower and grow. Remarkable resilience for such a small and delicate-looking flower.

Jesus might have said "the kingdom of heaven is like the snowdrop which, though battered and bruised, still stands, grows and develops." If he had said that, then we'd be trying to understand the parable. People of faith need to be resilient! That would be the very simple message of that parable. People of faith need to stand strong and true under some very difficult circumstances. Some of the most resilient people look frail and have the most difficult lives, but they remain unmoved. Inspirational!

Where does our resilience come from?

  • Some are by nature people who just take everything in their stride; we might describe them as phlegmatic, or laid-back, but nothing seems to bother them, or shake them. They are just like that.

  • Others have learned to be resilient from experience. Life has dealt them so many blows that they have learned how to handle them; it's tough going, but they have learned to survive and remain strong.

  • Some take their resilience from other people, being part of a family, or a community of faith in the Church, or from friends that they meet in other places. By being loved and supported by others, they become resilient.

  • Ultimately, our resilience comes from Jesus. This works in 2 ways: first of all, we have the example of His own life, His resilience in enduring suffering and death for the cause of our salvation, so we see that he endured and take inspiration from that; secondly, because he endured, He is able to help us endure and the power that was at work in Him in also at work in us.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)