Friday, December 19, 2014

Waiting for the dawn

The longest night is very close now. The dark comes before we know it, and lasts so long. On these western fringes our fires burn small – pinpricks of light in the wide darkness. The warmth of summer, the plenty of autumn – these are memories. Food is hoarded against the midwinter feasting, and after that we will hunger a little.
If we look to the north, we see only the night. Further west there is the wide restless sea – and nothing. In the southern sky, there is a bright star with a lesser in attendance. But it is to the east that we look, the eastern sky where the rim of light will grow, the distant lands where, long ago already, something wonderful happened. More wonderful still: it happens again and again, coming to assuage our darkness at the year’s turning, bringing light to the hidden places of our hearts, promising us that we have not been forgotten.
It is dark now, but it will be light. The child will bring it. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A letter to the Bishops

The following letter speaks for itself. I am proud of the signatories, and proud to add my name by posting it here.

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church,

We read with dismay the Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

We appreciate that we are bound by the law, and that until our canons are changed, we cannot legally perform same-sex marriages. However, we are disappointed by both the timing and the tone of the document. We have been urged by you to enter into ‘cascade conversations’ in a spirit of open and sensitive listening with people of all views on this matter. This document only makes this process much harder for us, even impossible for some. Far from acknowledging the reality of differing experience and views in the church, it gives the impression of a definitive answer to the question we have yet to discuss or debate. The document ought to make it clear that the restrictions it describes may be temporary, if the church decides to change its canons. Because of the confusion created by this document, we now believe that such canonical change should be decided in Synod as soon as possible.

But we were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married. In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop.

We acknowledge that this process is one which creates anxiety for all church leaders, and bishops in particular. We empathise with the difficult situation that you as bishops are in, and reaffirm our desire to support you in your leadership of our church, and as fellow members of it.

Nevertheless, some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ.

Yours sincerely,
Revd Carrie Applegath,
Revd Philip Blackledge,
Revd Maurice Houston,
Revd Canon John McLuckie,
Revd Canon Ian Paton,
Revd Kate Reynolds,
Revd Martin Robson,
Revd Malcolm Aldcroft,
Dr Darlene Bird (lay reader),
Revd Jim Benton-Evans,
Revd Cedric L. Blakey,
Revd Andrew Bowyer,
Revd Canon Bill Brockie,
Revd Tony Bryer,
Revd Steve Butler,
Revd Christine Barclay,
Revd Lynsay M Downes,
Revd Markus D├╝nzkofer,
Revd Canon Anne Dyer,
Revd Janet Dyer,
Revd Jennifer Edie,
Revd John L Evans,
Revd Samantha Ferguson,
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood,
Kennedy Fraser,
Revd Kirstin Freeman,
Revd Frances Forshaw,
Revd Ruth Green,
Revd Bob Gould,
Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth,
Revd Ruth Innes,
Revd Ken Webb,
Rev’d Canon Mel Langille,
Revd Kenny Macaulay,
Revd Simon Mackenzie,
Revd Duncan MacLaren,
Very Revd Nikki McNelly,
Very Revd Jim Mein,
Revd Nicola Moll,
Revd Bryan Owen,
Revd Canon Clifford Piper,
Revd Donald Reid,
Revd Colin Reed,
Revd Canon John Richardson,
Revd Malcolm Richardson,
The Revd Gareth J M Saunders,
Very Revd Alison J Simpson,
Very Revd Andrew Swift,
Kate Sainsbury (lay reader),
Patsy Thomson (lay reader),
Prof Revd Annalu Waller

Long ago, in a universe far away ...

I have been thinking I ought to write to the College of Bishops about that pronouncement that is now all over yesterday's Herald, quite apart from anywhere else, but my exhibitionist side actually prefers to ruminate here, where anyone can see it and no-one can decide to interpret it in their own way in private. Strangely, it was learning of the death of Bishop Michael Hare-Duke that stirred up the memories that, it seems to me, make this latest situation so absurd.

Long long ago, when I was very young and had only been a member of the SEC for 5 years, I was chosen to be one of the two lay representatives from Argyll and The Isles to sit on the Provincial Synod. This relatively small body met annually in Perth, and it was with some trepidation that I travelled there that first year (it was 1978, the day Pope John Paul 2 was elected) to find that I was the youngest person in the Synod and hadn't a clue what was expected of me.  I remember spending many hours debating the language of the New Liturgy - what is now the 1982 Liturgy and itself regarded as positively old hat. As the years passed - during which the Provincial Synod abolished itself and the RCC and I vanished from the wider church and concentrated on my day job - I became aware of what was going on and who was who in the hierarchy - and one of the most interesting of the bishops was Bishop Michael, the poet and thinker who did so much to shape the 1982 Liturgy.

But to my point. One of the first issues I recall being involved in voting about was The Remarriage in Church of Divorced Persons. This gave rise to much heated discussion and seemed a Very Important Matter Indeed. And then there were women. In the run-up to this particular Synod my husband answered a phone-call (I was out). The conversation ran thus:
"May I speak to Christine, please?"
"I'm sorry, she's out. Who's calling?"
"It's George."
(Suspiciously) "George who?"
(Plaintive)"George the bishop."
"Oh. Hello. She's not here."
"Give her a message, will you? For God's sake tell her not to vote for women priests."
"Oh. Right. I'll tell her."

And he did. At the Synod the next week, a lovely older woman (maybe the age I am now) told me I was the kind of woman who ought to be ordained. I didn't know whether to be gratified or horrified. Her son became one of our bishops, incidentally, but he is no longer with us.

It should be painfully obvious why I'm telling these anecdotes. I'm now older than any of the current diocesan bishops, and have a far longer memory than to be able to let their current burst of ill-placed authoritarianism pass without asking them what in all seriousness they think they're at. If it weren't so serious, so damaging to people I care about and the institution I still, after all the years and all the setbacks, care about also, I'd laugh. I'd laugh the way I do when I hear small children playing - "Let's make it that you're the mummy and I'm the daddy"... "Let's make it sound as if we can actually tell people what to do/think/believe."

I'm sorry. We're adult Christians. We've learned about justice, compassion, equality, fairness - not to mention common sense. And long ago, Bishop Michael Hare-Duke exemplified these qualities to a very young, very inexperienced new Christian. The last time I met him was some 7 years ago - at the first Provincial conversation about the status and experiences of gay Christians. We were both much older - but he at least hadn't changed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A letter to Jim Murphy MP

The following open letter from me to Jim Murphy, newly-elected leader of The Labour Party in Scotland, appeared in today's Sunday Herald:

Dear Mr Murphy

As someone who successfully taught English in the state sector for my entire career, both in Glasgow and in Dunoon, and whose sons attended the local comprehensive,  I think I can claim to have a pretty good idea about teaching and learning in secondary schools in Scotland. Right from the early days when a young Johann Lamont sat in the front row of my classroom to the day I retired, I was aware of the excellent work being done by my colleagues, often under desperately trying situations. 

These situations were brought about, not by their lack of ability, but by the attitude towards education of too many of their pupils - an attitude shaped and reinforced by that of their parents, who were either hostile to teachers or uninterested as long as they could get on with their own lives. The behaviour of these pupils frequently disrupted the learning of the more interested with the inevitable effect on the quality of the experience and the final outcomes.

How do you think it makes teachers like me feel to read that you are eager to ensure that “state school pupils in deprived areas should have access to teachers in the independent sector”? (Sunday Herald, 07/12/14) We have always known that there are good and poor teachers in private schools, just as there are in every school in the land. In fact, we have also long been aware that a poor teacher is less likely to have his weaknesses exposed in an independent school, where parental pressure tends to ensure an ethos of industry. 

Before you launch your attack on the private sector, think carefully about the effect your ill-considered remarks have on the thousands of hard-working teachers in the state sector, and consider more carefully the target of your plans. Your words are more likely to have the effect of further diminishing the enthusiasm for the importance of school of any parents who listen to you.

I was a member of the Labour party for many years, but this revival of class envy at the expense of my contribution to society is just one of the factors that will ensure I will never be a member again.


Christine McIntosh

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On rage, and prophetic leadership

I've not been blogging for a bit, and it'd be good to be able to post another Advent piece, a poem perhaps or something I wrote previously that could do with an airing, but my Advent attempts at calm meditation have been disturbed by two things. One is ok, actually - I've been working on a sermon for Advent 3, all John the Baptist and making straight the way of the Lord, and though the results are perhaps more prophetic in tone than is entirely seemly in a lay preacher, I feel the contemplation that produced said results were a suitable occupation. The other, however, is not at all ok. It all began with reading a blog post which took me to a statement by the bishops of the only church I've ever actually belonged to.  And this statement, about what The Church had to say about the things gay people may and may not do within its rapidly diminishing sphere of influence, disturbed me to such an extent that I've thought of little else all week.

And this morning the same blogger posted this very measured and gracious piece,  and I felt disturbed all over again. Because I'm not feeling at all measured and gracious, and I have made no promises about maintaining peace and unity and besides I'm feeling restless and rebellious. And in writing this, I hope to do two things.

The first is to apologise to anyone, gay or straight, within the church or - more likely - outside it and looking on incredulously, and to tell them not to write off all Christians, all Episcopalians, as being firmly stuck in the ignorant past and willing to sacrifice the wonderful gift of life in all its fullness on the altar of a variety of respectability and prejudice that was common in the 1950s. Some of us are raging because the church we love has turned its back on people we love and value - people who also love the church and want to play a full and joyful part in it.

And the raging brings me to the second thing. Rage in debate is seldom helpful, but sometimes it leads one to a vision of what leadership is all about. John the Baptist certainly didn't mince his words, and Jesus had a less than temperate way with those who ground down the poor, the outsider - the ones who didn't conform. We've had prophetic leadership in the SEC in the past, and we've seen that it's never easy for such leaders. But I long for such leadership. Where is the inspiration, the vision that would allow our church to shine as an example to 21st century society?

Finally, I realise I have a big problem with the way things are being done just now. If those in authority tell me privately that they're on the same wavelength as I am but they have to keep everyone on board, I'm not sure this is a lifeboat I want to continue in. If the captain and some very capable sailors tell you that the closest land is due east, and some of the more timid passengers want to go on sailing to America even though it's five times further because that's where they were originally going before the liner sank, which way would you want to go?

People, look east, I say. People, look east.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Taking Advent seriously


Rend the heavens, come quickly down –
Can we mean it? In the dark
to ask the God to come like this
would have us tremble at the presence
sought that Sunday as we sang.
Behold, thou wast angry and we sinned – 
dear God, we try, we know our sin, 
we see too clearly where we are.
The veiled women weep, the bomb
explodes on distant soil:
we worry lest our own are there,
care less about the ruined lives
among the debris of our wars.
All our deeds are like a polluted garment -
hung about us in the cold
as if we fear our nakedness,
would do anything to hide.
The child dies at the hands of those
whose task is care and love
while we, appalled, avert our eyes
from innocence betrayed.
We all fade like a leaf
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away –
light little things in the face of creation
and yet, and yet …
Lord, we continue. You have never
swept us from the face of earth.
We love and beget and children
lovely children, innocent and clean
come naked into the world
in your eternal promise of what can be.
Your Son will come, again, again
and we have hope, another chance
to use your world in precious ways
to hold your people to your face.
As tiny fingers clasp round ours
we reach into the dark and feel
the strength of love enfolding us.
The heavens are rent as if a cloud
were parted at the end of rain
and light will come too bright to tell – 
we sing again. Come, Lord, and soon.


I wrote this some time ago at this point in the year. Sadly, the world that I linked to the words of the Advent Prose has, if anything, become a sadder place - and one very much in need of the promises of hope.

Monday, November 24, 2014

When the lights come on at four ...

Prevented from my customary roaming by a vile cough and an unaccustomed sense of responsibility, I find myself thinking about what happens as I get older. For let's face it, older I am - and it's over nine years since I retired from teaching and I frequently wonder at the person that did all that teaching and extra-curricular work as well as the things I still like to do.

It's not that I'm particularly decrepit, in the normal way of things, no matter how lousy I may feel right now. I can still hike in the mountains all day and survive to enjoy a bibulous meal in the evening - for that's what we do on these walking holidays we've become fond of. I can still enjoy singing in the various ensembles I'm involved in, and though I'm well aware of the need to keep my voice in good working order by proper production and by careful practice, in many ways I sing better than I ever did. My sight-reading hasn't faltered, either of music or of the written word (when I haven't prepared a reading in church, f'rinstance.) So what has changed?

The energy levels, that's sure. Not necessarily the energy that sustains the long hikes, but the energy that allows you to cope with keeping several balls in the air at once - or even to contemplate so doing.   And it's not as if I sit fretting about the things left undone - I often find myself saying ( a Psalmist moment coming on) Tush! I'll do it tomorrow ... Take today. I know I have the excuse of a bug, but I seem to have spent the afternoon until now dozing and doing two Sudokus on paper (I usually do them online. There's more scope for changing your mind). It was partly the wonder at this incredible waste of time that led to this post. But I know that the same person who did this was perfectly capable of letting, say, a free period in school slide past in trivia - chatting to a colleague, perhaps, or pottering on a page of the school magazine which the pupil editors could perfectly well have done without me. So in a way, this retired malarkey simply allows me to be the person I always was. Only thing is, I'm more aware now that the reckoning will come, not in the form of a line manager wondering when my marking is going to be done but in the shape of ... well, death, not to put too fine a point on it.

However, I've discovered that it's a mistake to try to line up meaningful activities to tick off as part of these apparently declining years. The mental energy just isn't there. Mental energy, note - not physical. That's less abundant too, of course, though normally, I'd have decent exercise in a day - usually a walk that most people would think long and strenuous. This takes hours out of my life. Is it time wasted? I take photos and share them online, enjoying the photos from friends and family and total strangers that are there when I do so. Time wasted? I spent an age making a card for a grandson with a photo of him in action, but I suspect society would approve of that bit. And they might think it was all right to get round to scanning some extraordinary photos I found in a drawer, of my grandparents at the beginning of last century. (I must do that ...)

But here's a thing. Is it significant that I'm choosing to write this as darkness falls? Ever since I was young, I've known this was a time of day for feeling melancholy in - not necessarily the hour, but the fading of light and the end of the day's possibilities. It comes second only to the grim hour before dawn when you waken and consider Last Things - take a look at Philip Larkin's Aubade for an example of this. There is no denying the fact that it's better to be busy or preoccupied than to moon over the horrors of ageing, though clearly Larkin in this poem feared death more. (He was pretty miserable about ageing as well - read The Old Fools.)

When I was a teenager, stressed under the burdens of homework and my hockey-bag, I used to sit on the bus and look with a degree of envy at some buddy who might have been the age I am now but who would have been dressed in a way I still consider elderly. I would be thinking of all the worries she didn't have - presumably she had a husband, a house, no homework, no exams, no monthly agonies from an erratic menstrual cycle, no tendency to have her gut heave the moment a plateful of food was placed in front of her.

I think I'm not going to comment on that. It's too obvious where the flaws lie. But talking about these moments on the 10 bus to Broomhill has brought these journeys home amazingly close. Life, as I've commented before, is at once timeless and brief, and I keep coming face to face with someone I used to be. I've always been aware of this, I think - these poems I've been referring to were a regular feature in my teaching, and these teenaged pupils loved studying them despite - or maybe because of - the gloom. But ahead of us all - who knows what lies there?

A question to end, brought on by the season of remembrance: Is it any easier to die in a sudden burst of shellfire than slowly, in bed? Among companions who may or may not survive, or alone? I suspect you're always alone inside your head at the end - but wonder.

Ah -  Give me your arm, old Toad; help me down Cemetery Road...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

November - a poem for the season of remembrance


The month of remembering -
the lines of men in the stubble fields
the hideous scramble over a muddy
parapet, the cringing death in the
eye’s blink - this month recalls
wars past and wars still trailing
death and mutilation in their wake.
But not just that.
This month of remembering 
lines up before our wavering prayers
the souls of Saints, the souls
of our beloved dead, guttering
like candles in the fitful 
illumination of our faith.
The tears come, yes - 
but do we weep for them, or do we
shrink at the sudden blinding glimpse
of our too frail mortality?
We who live trudge on to where
our companion dead are waiting
among the red flowers at the years’ end
in that land to which we go.

©C.M.M. 11/14

This owes its conclusion to a fraction of an idea from R.S.Thomas, whose words tend to haunt my subconscious and of whom I will always be in awe.