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Autumn traditions - a few reflections

Submitted by Dean on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 10:39

Folklore & Traditions

a few reflections by Canon Dean Fostekew

There is, think, something about the darker months of the year that seems to engender the creation of different traditions. Halloween is almost upon us with the more modern and American tradition of ‘trick or treat’. Based on the ancient Scottish and Celtic tradition of Samhain, which pre-dates Christianity, it was a time when our ancestors believed that the veil between the living and the dead was very thin and it was all about remembering and commemorating the dead. It also confronted death with humour and ridicule, to help keep that “other world” at bay. The Christian practice of keeping All Saints and All Souls  Days on the 1st and 2nd November grew out of this tradition with Halloween becoming ‘All Hallows Eve’ - the preparation for the celebration on the 1st November, when a festival Mass would have been said and a party followed.

The 31st October was also the start of the Celtic New Year and not about ‘ghosties and goulies’, however many of you will remember the tradition of  ‘guising’ at Halloween. Guising is all about disguise. On Halloween, when it was believed that spirits could walk among the living, people dressed up to protect themselves. If a spirit came looking for you, it might not recognise you. Guising door-to-door was also a way of building social bonds and relieving community tensions. It was always meant to be a bit of fun. I suspect the ‘trick or treat’ aspect came from this knocking on doors and hoping for a warm welcome. A bit like carol singing, if you performed well you got a treat!

For me, growing up in the South  of England, guising and Halloween was a bit of a mystery when I came to Scotland. At this time of the year I was more familiar with Bonfire Night. I can remember children making ‘guys’ to burn on the bonfire and collecting money to buy fireworks. This was well before Health and Safety crossed anyones mind! On the 5th November the people from my local community gathered in the old kiln area and an enormous bonfire would be lit. As the fireworks filled the skies we would enjoy playing with sparklers and eating jacket potatoes filled with butter that had been cooked in the flames. But, I wonder how many folk associated the fun with the attempt to blow James VI to bits in Parliament in 1605?

As November moves in to December we have more traditions associated with light and the light returning to the dark world. For Christians this was to herald  the coming birthday of Jesus Christ and to celebrate the fact that He is the light of our world. One only has to think of the Advent Ring - perhaps some of you remember its annual creation on Blue Peter? - with an additional candle lit every Sunday in Advent and the final candle lit on Christmas Day. No doubt you’ll hear more about theses traditions in the coming weeks.

What are the traditions you most remember associated with this time of the year?

Reflection for Bible Sunday 25th October 2020 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 12:28

Bible Sunday 2020 Year A

“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak; forbidden fruit; set your teeth on edge; in the twinkling of an eye; give up the ghost; by the skin of your teeth; bite the dust; a wolf in sheep’s clothing; cast the first stone and can a leopard change its spots?”

Familiar words and phrases which all come from the King James Version of the Bible. As the historian Jenny Wormald says:

“The translators somehow had a wonderful instinct for evocative language. Their towering achievement was not that it was complete, or that it was accurate, but that they produced an edition of the Bible where the language sang.”

Many of you will have grown up, like your parents and grandparents before you, very familiar with the words of the King James Bible. Until the 1970’s it was really the only Bible used in churches of an Anglican ilk. Comfortable and familiar words to you but perhaps more confusing to generations of my age and younger, especially for those like me coming from homes where religious practice was rare. I can appreciate the poetic constructs of the King James Version of the Bible and read it aloud but my personal preference is for the New Revised Standard Version a translation that chimes with the language and phrasing I have grown up with.

Some of you might dislike so called ‘modern translations’ as being too modern – but you have to remember that the ‘Good News’ version is now over 50 years old! What we forget, though, is that 400 years ago the King James Version was seen as being radical and different as well. What has become familiar and acceptable to us was in 1611 new and strange and enforced by law to; ‘be read in all churches’. In this there was no choice, it was what the King, James VI/I wanted and decreed and because he was head of the church it was what you got!

As a small boy I was fascinated by the great, chained Bible in my Grandmother’s Aunt’s (my great, great Aunt) village church – St.Michael in Cumnor (Oxfordshire). It was then still used every week and at the time I can remember being filled with a sense of history and the presence of God simply by touching it as others had done over almost four centuries. The King James Version has influenced our churches and our language in Britain more than anything or anyone else. As Melvyn Bragg is quoted as saying:

“There is no doubt in my mind that the King James Bible not Shakespeare set this language on its path to become a universal language on a scale unprecedented before or since.”

Words used in this version have also helped to ensure that Christ’s words have not ‘passed away’ either. But there is a danger, a danger not just with the King James Version but with the Bible per se.

In the first reading from Nehemiah, today, amidst all those impossible names there is a phrase that can easily be over looked. Yet it is one of significant importance. Importance because it is the key to countering the dangers of the Bible:

“helped the people understand”

From the earliest times of the Hebrew faith, out of which Christ came and our faith grew. There have been prophets and teachers who have taught the people and helped to explain what the Scriptures meant. There was never a tradition of accepting the texts as written, they were supposed to be interpreted and explanation sought as to what they might mean here and now. When the Bible is read without interpretation or explanation it can be very dangerous. Dangerous in that it can be used to control people and to frighten them into submission. The medieval church worked on this principle and some congregations, denominations and sects continue to do so today. In this month of Black History we are also reminded how the Bible was used to justify slavery and the inhuman treatment of equals on the basis of skin colour alone.

As someone who is thoroughly Anglican but catholic (with a small ‘C’), I have been led to believe that Scripture is not the inerrant word of God but a record of people’s experiences of God through the ages, a record written in human language codes which in themselves contain something of the essence of God but not a total understanding of him. The Bible was not dictated by God to anyone man (women hardly get a look in as prophets and teachers) it has grown up over many thousands of years in response to humanity’s experience of the divine or that which we call God. Very few books of the Bible, despite their titles, are actually the single work of anyone person. There is more than one ‘Paul’ and umpteen ‘Isaiah’s’ for a start and let alone how many psalmists. Even the four Gospel accounts are different in the details they record.

It is for this reason that for me, and I know that I am not alone in this, the Bible both the Old and New Testaments cannot be read or interpreted fundamentally. They contain enough universal truth for salvation but they are not without inaccuracy, contradiction and bias; they are imperfect. This is why the Bible can be dangerous when some choose to insist that the Bible is perfect and use its imperfections to persecute others or to justify inhuman actions towards those who think or appear different to them.

Without interpretation we would still support slavery; women would be considered less than men and anyone who was not male, not white, not heterosexual or disabled should probably be burnt at the stake. James VI persecuted many women as witches despite being an excellent scholar and Biblical revisionist, simply because they were good healers. We may laugh at his actions today, but we forget that in some places in the world similar things continue to happen in the name of the Bible – like Uganda’s repeated attempts to introduce the death penalty for homosexuals. Legislation proposed by a ‘Christian Government’ but supported by the Anglican Church there. ‘Burning at the stake' still happens.

Despite its dangers the Bible also contains some of the most humane and loving commandments. What better rule of life could there be than to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’? When the Bible is studied critically, prayed about, interpreted and expounded with love it can be the most effective tool for change in our world. When not, it is I believe dangerous beyond words and belief.

We have a gift in the Bible, a gift that with interpretation and love can be used to effect great change and the establishment of a Holy Commonwealth or Kingdom here on earth. Used wisely its power is immense; used badly and it can be so destructive that one could wonder if it had any good in it at all. Its use, good or bad though depends on one thing – US and that really makes you think.

Reflection from the Rev'd David Warnes for Sunday 18th October 2020 St.Luke's Day

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 11:10

St Luke Year A 2020 Good Shepherd

I wonder how many of you used to enjoy the Peanuts cartoon strip by the American artist Charles M. Schulz – the cartoons which featured Charlie Brown and Snoopy, the dog who fantasized about being a First World War fighter ace. Schulz was a lifelong church attender and a Sunday School teacher. He comes to mind today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Evangelist St Luke, because today’s Gospel reading was his favourite passage from the New Testament. It’s a reading which encourages us to think about the nature of peace.

When Jesus instructs the disciples about how to conduct themselves on the mission on which he is sending them, he tells them:

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

It’s a strange and profound saying, for it suggests that peace is something tangible, something that the disciples can carry and offer to people; something which may be accepted or rejected but which is not diminished by rejection. It is the person who rejects the peace who misses out, not the person who offers it.

Peace has many meanings. The peace of which Jesus speaks here is not an absence of noise, nor an absence of worries; not even an absence of conflict. The Hebrew word shalom, translated as peace, means much more than that. An American Rabbi, Robert Kahn, defined it thus:

One can dictate a peace; shalom is a mutual agreement.

Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement.

One can make a peace treaty; shalom is the condition of peace.

Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion.

shalom is positive, the presence of serenity.

Peace can be partial; shalom is whole.

Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete.

An ancient and reliable tradition has it that St Luke was a physician. His Gospel has plenty of medical detail in it and many stories of healing, and it is likely that his presence with the imprisoned Paul, mentioned in today’s Epistle, was helpful for that reason, as well as for the spiritual support that he offered. For Luke, healing was far more than the curing of medical conditions. It was a restoration to wholeness, a restoration to community, a process intimately bound up with forgiveness. Healing was, in short, a re-establishing of shalom.

Today’s Gospel makes clear that shalom requires us to be both generous bearers of peace and willing recipients of it. Shalom is a two-way street.

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

To be a willing recipient of peace is not easy, for it involves acknowledging our needs – our need of healing, our need of forgiveness, our need of both the benefits and demands, the joys, the sorrows and the vulnerabilities of being in relationships.

To be a bearer and a giver of peace is no less difficult, for that involves an openness to and a discernment of the needs of others; a willingness to meet those needs. The Jesus of whom we read in Luke’s Gospel has a complete understanding of the people whom he encounters. He offers them shalom in the form of healing and forgiveness.

One of the characters in the Charlie Brown cartoons is a girl called Lucy van Pelt. She is a pretty acidic person whose mission in life is to deflate other people, including her long-suffering friend Charlie. Lucy is not a bearer or giver of shalom. In one of their encounters Lucy says:

“You know what I see when I look at you, Charlie Brown? I see failure written all over your face!”

There’s an approach to Christian evangelism which might be called the Lucy van Pelt approach because it starts by telling people that they are sinners and that they are badly in need of salvation. You may have encountered it on your own doorstep or in the form of one of those sandwich- board carriers whose sign says: “Repent for the end is nigh”. It wasn’t Jesus’ way, as today’s Gospel makes clear, and it shouldn’t be ours. Rather we are called to share the peace of Christ, to share what we encounter and receive in the Eucharist.

Charles M. Schulz understood that well. Lucy’s words to Charlie were cutting and judgmental:

“You know what I see when I look at you, Charlie Brown? I see failure written all over your face!”

Charlie Brown’s response was profoundly wise:

“Just look at my face...don’t write on it!”

Our calling is to do, as best we can, what Jesus did – to discern the needs of others and respond to them. That is the tangible gift of healing peace that we can offer in the hope that it will be accepted. That is a peace which is far more than the security for which all human beings long, more even than the absence of conflict which would be such a blessing in Yemen, Nagorno- Karabakh and other places. It is a costly peace because it involves the risk of reaching out in trust to those who are different, being open to their needs and their fears. And the starting point for that is:

“Just look at my face, don’t write on it!” Amen.

Sunday 11th October 2020 Trinity XVIII A reflection from the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 14:16

Trinity XVIII – Sunday 11th October 2020

Think about these things……

As a lawyer, I spend much of my working week thinking about words. What do they mean? What do they say? Have I understood them? Am I being clear when I speak or write? Do I have the courage to say that I don’t understand what is being said or what a particular impressive word might mean?

There is a client who invariably uses the phrase “modus operandi” in every conversation we have. I know what it means but it is not a phrase I would use myself.

Since I was last with you over six months ago, I have had time to think about what has been happening globally; in our own communities; in our circle of friends and among colleagues. How have things changed? What is important to me? What are my priorities? What does the future hold? When will I be able to attend a live concert, or travel abroad or go down to London?

I recently went into the local post office to get some five-pound notes for my elderly mother. She does not have internet banking and relies upon cash or writing cheques. In front of me was an old lady with a walking stick, not unlike her. She asked for a stamp, removed it from the sticky backing and put it on her envelope prior to handing it over to be posted. As she turned round to leave, the postmaster said “Do you wish me to put the sticky backing in the bin?”. She replied “Yes. Thank you.  I didn’t see it”. That was not sufficient for him. He persisted by saying “It is normal to put waste paper in the bin; don’t you know?”. She replied further by saying “I’m sorry. I’m just a bit nervous today”. She turned round, bowed her head and left suitably chastened and rebuked. There was no need for such behaviour. He was being disrespectful and objectionable. I had seen it before. What was even more galling was that there was a sign in front of the counter saying “Abusive and threatening behaviour will not be tolerated”. My dilemma, being next in the queue, was whether or not to say anything to him.

The words from Philippians 4:8-9 which we hear today: -

“Finally, beloved,

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable,

Whatever is just, whatever is pure,

Whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,

If there is any excellence

And if there is anything worthy of praise,

Think about these things.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned

And received and heard and seen in me,

And the God of peace will be with you”.

are some of my favourite. They speak of all that is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable. Some of the characteristics of what it means to love, to be human, to be kind, to be vulnerable. Seeking to follow the One who became flesh and dwelt among us and who still longs to be known by us too.

In the delightful book “The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse” by Charlie Mackesy  he writes in the foreward “I hope that this book encourages you perhaps to live courageously with more kindness for yourself and others. And to ask for help when you need it - which is always a brave thing to do”.

Think about these things…….

Sunday 4th October 2020 Harvest Thanksgiving

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 11:52

Harvest 2020  Year A  Sunday 4th October

For someone, like me, a complete born and raised ‘townie’, ‘Harvest’ is a sort of alien concept. Harvest when I was growing up was something we sang about at Primary School and then ignored throughout the rest of my adolescence and early adult life. It was only on returning to faith that I re-encountered ‘Harvest’ and came across the idea that we really do need to give thanks to God for giving us a harvest.

Even then, when I first re-discovered it,  ‘Harvest’ was sort of only associated with ‘our daily bread’ and not much more. It was all focused on the wheat-sheaf loaf placed on the altar. It really did take me quite a long time to realise that ‘Harvest’ is actually about so much more than giving thanks for the grain crop being cut before the autumn rains can spoilt it. I still, today, have to challenge myself to push the boundaries of what I naturally associate as harvest to include all food production on land and in the sea and all who work to produce that food as well. Let alone the harvest of the city, whatever that might be?

So what is harvest? What does it mean today? And is it still something we need to be conscious of each year, especially as we now live in a global economy and world where harvest occurs at different times and in different ways?

The simple answer to those questions is YES! Even more so today, we need to stop and give thanks for all we have. When you next look at a plate of food try and remember where each ingredient came from. A recent supper for me consisted of:

sea bass from Turkey

broccoli from Norfolk

peas and beans from East Anglia and Kenya

tomatoes from Spain

and almonds from Greece

One plate of food but it had travelled a very international route to find its way before me. All of it was seasonal to whence it came but not necessarily seasonal to Scotland. So much of what we eat is similar. At home I try to cook and use seasonal produce from Scotland but at times in the year there is only so many root vegetables or salmon one can routinely eat day after day without calling in variety from around the globe. Such as that taste of asparagus at Christmas, never as good as springtime asparagus but it is a taste to savour none the less.

Without produce from around the globe and the skills and labour of people from different countries and cultures our diets would be ‘same-y’ and boring and although harvests occur at different times in different places it is VITALLY IMPORTANT that at least once a year we stop, reflect and give thanks to God for all that the many harvests of the world give to us.

In that stopping and giving thanks we also need to remember to give thanks for those who grew and produced the harvest for us in the first place and to work out if we have exploited them in any way. Did I pay a far price for what I ate? Did the farmer get well paid for her efforts?

I have personally, been appalled by some large food sellers pulling out of the Fair Trade organisation and ‘partnering’ with them, whatever that means? I suspect it means not paying a fair price for the goods and hoodwinking us to believe they still do pay a fair price. It is all down to profit margins over people.

It might seem trivial to us in the developed north of the world but we do take too much for granted at the expense of those who are basically subsistence farmers providing goods for us that they could not afford even to taste. And what will happen in this post-Brexit Great Britain to our own farmers and seafarers has yet to be fully discovered. So we really do need to pray.

To pray with thanksgiving for the good gifts that God gives us. To pray for the future food production and producers in this country and around the globe. And to pray for an equal sharing of the world’s resources so that no one goes hungry or watches their children starve before them, especially when they are the people ensuring that we don't starve.

It is always worth remembering that the world is precariously balanced and that we might not always be as ‘all right’ as we think we are.

I believe that our cry today should simply be:

‘Thank you, God!’

Thank you for all the good gifts around us and for all the things you give us to make our lives happy and healthy.

Never take Harvest for granted and hold in prayer all those for whom harvest is a hope rather than a reality. All those who are facing a bleak future with a failed harvest or a poor one and ask God how we can support those in need as they so often produce the things we need and rely upon.