Monday, June 27, 2011

Frock it!

I very rarely write about clothes. Dresses even less often. But there's a family wedding on the horizon, and it will still be summer (stop laughing) and the usual black elegant breeks seem ... well, black. And besides they've been round the block a bit, beginning with the time they climbed out of an Argyll ditch after a car crash, and that wasn't yesterday. The good news, I suppose, is that they remained elegant and that they still fit. But I digress.

In the interests of trying, I send for a dress that caught my eye in a sale. Lovely material - silk/cotton - lovely  subtle slatey colour, potentially flattering lines and length. And it arrives, and it fits. But there's the rub. I don't like myself in it. I hitch up the skirt to see if the new knee-length would have been any better, but find it as unflattering as ever. (I don't think knee-length cuts it unless you wear killer heels and have a long tibia. Or two.) I realise my ankles are looking ... well, old. The bump from the sprain a month ago doesn't help, and I daresay they'd be improved by tights - another horror. Loathe tights.

I think I'm in danger of looking like the matronly aunt-in-law that I actually am. I can't bear myself in this mode. What to do? I shall give the shops one last try. I'm not holding out much hope. But I'd like to issue a warning to any of the generation that might be having any ideas: I'm not up for this dressing-for-a-wedding caper. It's not me.

Now, what about a nice little fascinator ...?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who's Corpus Christi?

Bit slow off the mark, I'm afraid, as a visit to Glasgow for a service in the evening involves The Last Ferry and a rather late night. But I've just been reading the authoritative report of last evening's proceedings in St Mary's Cathedral and feel moved to make my own.

I've been to only one other celebration of Corpus Christi in my day - perhaps 15 years ago now, when Dale Grey was the Warden at Cumbrae and laid on a joyous service with a visiting choir (not one I was in) and a procession round the grounds of the Cathedral there. I had some idea of what to expect in the way of ceremony and I knew there would be rose petals, but I had no notion of how I might react. This is how it feels now:

I have a renewed appreciation of the power of ritual. When ritual is beautifully done, with conviction and authority and no attempt to make it ordinary or contemporary, it is capable of sweeping the participants into its self-forgetting rhythm. This is what happened. The sacrament was there in the monstrance (left) and was paraded round the church in a procession of incense (from two thuribles!) preceded by a rain of rose petals from an ever-replenished basin (there are more photos on Kelvin's blog on the link above). And as it passed we turned, like subjects of old, so as to have our eyes always on the monstrance and what it contained. Suddenly it became real, in the sense that we talk, as Kelvin did, about the Real Presence: I knew that in that circle of gold there was a wafer of unleavened bread, but when it passed me I bowed low - not once, but three times, each time it passed. That felt right. I didn't have to think about it.

We encountered here the power of symbolism - and symbolism that was appropriate and in-your-face and glorious. Usually I worship in relatively modern English, sing everything in sight, strain to hear all that is said above the noise of Godly Play, and know everyone around me. Last night's Mass was sung by a choir, in Latin; there was silence (apart from the traffic in Great Western Road) and there was glorious, thundering organ music that came reverberating through the soles of our feet, there was the all-pervading scent of the incense and I knew about three people and the celebrant. It was strange and it was exotic; it was liberating and funny and it was joyful; it was - or seemed to be - completely assured and unselfconscious.

Guess that's the key, really: unselfconsciousness. We can't be self-conscious and embarrassed, we mustn't feel we always have to justify our joyful eccentricities, we can't be apologetic Christians all the time or we've had it. Kevin introduced what was about to happen with a small joke: someone had asked "Who's this Corpus Christi that you're celebrating?" His last words at the end of the service reminded us of this question. Who is this Corpus Christi?

And the answer? It's us. Wow.

Note: There's a whole set of photos here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

And God saw that it was good

Here we are again - back in Holy Trinity for Trinity Sunday. The service has just ended, the crucifer is returning the cross to its stand, the candles are still lit. The flower power people are on holiday/sick, so there are no flowers, but that's fine. The aged seats from the long-vanished La Scala cinema (now the Dunoon branch of Mackay's) have gone from the sedilia, having finally succumbed to the damp, and have been replaced by  hassocks, and the carpet, though cleanish, now shows clearly where furniture has preserved its original colour. Obviously there is still much to be done.

But I couldn't help noticing the huge lift it gave us all on this, our Patronal festival, to see the light streaming in above the altar once more, after the weeks shrouded in tarpaulins, and the increased resonance of the organ as it banished all memories of the little keyboard Mr B had to play while his organ (hush!) was swathed in dust sheets and polythene. And there was an added frisson, for me at least, in realising during the long OT lesson - the entire Creation story - that I could hear Mary's voice at the back of the church, where the children have their Godly Play until we can accomodate them in the tower (not as bad as it sounds), echoing in a whisper the words of the story: "And God saw that it was good".

I think God would perhaps see that today was good.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Emerging from chaos ...

This rather poor photo doesn't do justice to the satisfaction it represents - a combination of a phone-camera, a gloomy day and hands trembling with the exertion of cleaning all these pews made for a weak effort in the photography department. This could not be said of the efforts the people of Holy Trinity Dunoon have made in the past year to ensure that their building ... well, worked, really.

So here you see the chancel arch minus the peeling blue paint that has disfigured it for the past ten years, and the pristine ingoes (I just learned this word) of the sanctuary windows. The scaffolding is down, and after a month of a nave altar in front of green tarpaulin we can now see the east windows again. The tower is drying out nicely and the bells are once again safe to ring. (That's what they tell me: I'm doing it tomorrow.)

The stour left was daunting, but this morning a small band of us got rid of it. The tiles were vacuumed and washed, the eagle had his orifices poked before he was polished, and the wide open spaces left by the removal of the now redundant choir stalls have us thinking of liturgical possibilities and ... polished wood flooring. There. I've said it.

It's just that as we prepare for our Patronal festival tomorrow, everything seems possible. Though I have to add that I don't clean my own house .... Strange, isn't it?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Twittering respectably

I've been catching up on some old friends' blogs - you can thank the weather for that, chaps! - and came across this post from Neil Winton just as I was pondering again (or anew, as the hymn hath it) the business of officialdom and social media. When I left the classroom - god, it's been six years - I could still look at flickr and some blogs on the school system, though Richard Holloway's work was largely taboo because, it seemed, he'd used naughty words. So NetGear said anyway.  Now, apparently, it is hard in schools to access any of the sites I've grown accustomed to using daily. Everyone and their grannies now know what Twitter is, but heaven forfend that our young should be able to use it.

Stupid logic, of course. I've been using Twitter since, November 2006. An earlyish adopter, then.  I've been blogging for a year or so longer. And I've been evangelical about the power of social media for most of the intervening years. But now I'm no longer involved in schools and education at large; my forum tends to be in church circles. So I've stood up at Synods both General and Diocesan and begged for blogs to be used to communicate and for Bishops to use Twitter. And back then - some 4/5 years ago -  I was scoffed at, either gently or violently. But gradually we saw bloggers doing their slightly risky thing on the sidelines of Synod, and then Twitter took over as comments were tweeted and shared live. Bishops blogged and had Facebook accounts. There were lunchtime meetings to help the uninitiated get over their fears (I'm talking General Synod here - all two and a half days of it) and, finally, official guidelines in the Synod papers for kind and responsible Tweeting. Social media had, on the face of it, arrived.

But we need to be careful here. There are still many, many people who have "no time" for Twitter and "all that stuff" - and that "no time" can be factual or pejorative in intent. And all too often they are the people who run organisations - because suddenly they see the huge potential for ... what? Anarchy? Revolution? Criticism?

Yes. Of course. All of these things. That's why repressive regimes block Facebook. I'm reminded, probably because of the context in which I now operate, of how the Bible used to be forbidden fruit to the common people, and then to women - much safer to keep it in Latin and in the hands of the priests, much more seemly for women to take their men's word for what was in this dangerous book. But hey - we all read the Bible now, if we feel so inclined, and we sometimes find new and exciting things in it, in our unschooled, lay fashion. And the job of the professionals is to help all of us to read sensibly, not to make basic errors in comprehension, to put it in a historical context and so on. The church as it is today, shrinking as it may be, seems to me a healthier and more alive organism for the active participation of its members.

And what, do you ask, has this to do with Twitter? Well, Twitter and other social media exist. People have become accustomed to using them to broadcast their status. Not all people are sensible, and some users of social media are downright silly - they're just people. But you can't stop them making fools of themselves, in public or not. You can assume that people at a gathering like Synod will, for the most part, have a modicum of intelligence and a large helping of goodwill - they wouldn't be there otherwise. I've already remarked on the lack of much tweeting during the last Synod - because someone, apparently, thought fit to warn them off at one point. I missed that bit, so I don't know how it was done. But for next year, I'd like to see a Twitter live backchat channel on the screens, so that everyone in the hall can see what's being said as it's said - and the people up front can have the chance to react to it.

Going back to the trigger for this post - the drive to have social media become normal in schools - I'm pushed into wondering if official blessing is in fact the one way to kill something off. I think our young might well tell us it is ...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lilies in the wind

The stinking lilies (left) are all out - I suspect they have a posh name, like Turk's Cap lilies or something, but their ammonia smell means that for the past 35 years I've thought of them as stinking. The Philadelphus, just behind them, is also beginning to come out, its sweet scent just making itself known over the ammonia. The sun is shining, albeit fitfully. I should be feeling mellow.

But I'm not. For a start they're too early: these are real end-of-term scents, the scents of warm summer evenings coming home late from school concerts or prizegivings, and it's not just that I am no longer involved in such matters upsetting things. The lilies were out before the end of May, presumably hastened by the almost-forgotten warmth of March and April, and now they hang over the path beaten out of shape by the rain that dominated last month. And warm it is not: after a promising start we had cloud and now there's a brisk and chilly wind. This may be global warming, or it may just be another example of the variable weather of the west. Either way, it's got me jangled.

I think I need another holiday. But we've not yet passed Trinity Sunday ...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fiddling at Synod?

Oh dear. I've been remiss in my blogging - but I've been away. Not more continental junketings, alas, but at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church. I seem to have participated rather often in this gathering over the years, but realise it's because I was a diocesan alternate before I was chosen as a representative ... but I maunder. Don't expect an official or exhaustive take on proceedings, however - you can find that here - my impressions are very patchy this year.

This is largely because I missed quite a chunk of things, including the task of facilitating discussion - I'd been looking forward to that - because I was no weel. Quite apart from my scheduled trip to Glasgow to have a small bit of me removed, I suffered horribly from our diocesan dinner and missed a whole morning on Mission; by the time I returned I realised I felt the way I used to after an absence from school: you caught measles or somesuch and when you went back you found out that everyone else had learned to do long division and you were totally lost.

And it's hard to get back into things in those circumstances. I was led to ponder how vital it is that individual speakers engage with their audience - it is so easy to switch off and let the mind wander as some voice drones on about ... but if I'm specific I shall pinpoint the offenders, and it is not my intention to wound. Rather I would beg that speakers are instructed in the art of eye contact, tonal variation and register - indeed, in the whole art of public speaking that they would have learned in Standard Grade had they been in my classroom. Maybe there's a job there for a certain bishop on the verge of retirement: having muttered resentfully about the boredom of one address, and having been rebuked by a more charitable neighbour on the grounds that this was after all the graveyard slot, I found myself once more engaged - and amused - by said bishop in his follow-up comments. Graveyard? I reckon he could make the dead laugh ...

Just to show that I'm not all girns and detachment, I should add here how much I enjoyed the break from traditional tedium offered by the indaba process. I was in a feisty group which in the end had to agree to disagree, but it was such a relief to be able to test responses on others rather than one's unfortunate neighbour or the twitterverse at large - though I had the feeling, confirmed later, that the twitterers had been somewhat discouraged while I was away being poorly. Someone had got it into their head that to tweet meant to be insensitive and crass and that it had therefore to be spelled out when tweeting would be inappropriate. I fear that is what happens when a spontaneous activity becomes respectable ... and I'm glad I didn't know about it, for that would have made me much, much worse.

But you'll be glad to know that my old friend the complacent male was at Synod. This was a cunningly camouflaged wee dinosaur, but his message was the same: it's a waste of time - in fact, it's navel-gazing - to fret about gender imbalance in church matters. He said it so quietly, slipping it in after one of the more mind-numbing exegeses, that we were onto the next item before I'd clocked it and got my hackles working - I told you I'd been no weel - and I was left frustrated. I shoulda said something. But then it was pointed out to me that his comment had been met by a wall of silence.  And it was suggested that I should perhaps think about this silence. What did it mean? Well for a start it sure wasn't applause - and we'd had plenty of applause for other speakers, so people were by no means apathetic. As a teacher and speaker, I know there is nothing more disheartening than silence - for I take silence to show indifference or apathy, or perhaps that everyone has gone to sleep. So maybe I wasn't needed after all - maybe the church as a body is getting past the Mesozoic age (I had to look that up) and his remark was indeed seen as crass by the majority of those present. Maybe my more normal kneejerk reaction would have merely confirmed him - and others, for I'm sure he's still not quite alone - that women (or other excluded groups) are only interested in their own causes and don't care that creation burns (see pic). The silence on the part of all the Saturday Synod survivors might even have taught him that he really shouldn't say these things. (It may be too late for him not to think them - he was not in his first youth)

But I feel I'm going on a bit. I shall finish with what, after cooling down slighly, I tweeted as my last word on the Synod:
The day a woman stands up and says we should not fuss about gender balance, all will be well. #pisky #secsynod

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

On the march again

On the march again
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Having caught up on most of my life, thanks to a dreich day with no huvtaes, I find I have time to reflect on my holiday with HF last week. We were walking in the Dordogne, in the neighbourhood of Sarlat, with what turned out to be a wonderfully interesting group of people from New York State, England and New Zealand. I've blogged about HF before, but I came home once more convinced of the merits of this kind of holiday - to say nothing about my enthusiasm for this part of France, new to me despite my frequent visits to more northern areas.

The photo shows pale grey skies on the first full day, replaced for most of the week by flawless blue, but the line of walkers shows for the sceptical how not every moment of a walk is filled with conversation - and reflects the fact that I had sprained my ankle, infuriatingly, within 10 minutes of starting off. (I subsequently completed the 10 mile hike, and resumed the programme after a day by the pool, but I'm not telling the quack)

So what do I remember? Birdsong, poppies, warmth, mellow golden stone, undulating landscape, the river deep in its gorge, the amazing troglodyte dwellings at Roque St Christophe ... singing "Veni Creator" in a stolen moment in a wonderful church in a tiny village when everyone else had moved off and hearing it soar in the awesome acoustic ... fascinating conversations with interesting people ... talking about all the so-called forbidden subjects as Mina took my mind off my ankle by discussing politics and religion ... food so good that we all looked forward to the leisurely dinners cooked by the chefs who came nightly to our hotel to cook for us.

Ok, so this is becoming a list, and therefore boring. Enough to say that the week was far from boring, and that my French felt much more useful than in the past. I enjoyed conversations in French on my day off, and I shared the poolside with a lizard in the hot sun. I'd love to be there now, and start to look forward to my next trip.

Itchy feet? Moi?