Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

A Breath of Fresh Air

A year ago I set off for work with a buff around my neck, to use as a mask, before masks were a thing. A year on, I cannot believe just how far we haven’t got in getting back to “normal”, except I now have a wide range of masks in various colours to accessorise different outfits. It is so rubbish. We need a breath of fresh air.

Going into work last year in full expectation of lockdown

A year ago, Mr Salmond was acquitted at his trial. A year on we have been through a Jarndyce and Jarndyce with the weirdly compelling viewing of the big fish squabbling in in the SNP pond. What a bleak phase of Scottish politics. We need a breath of fresh air.

On the plus side, outdoor exercise in groups is allowed again – so that involves breathing and fresh air. While zoom classes kept my strength and mobility on course, my cardio/calorie burning end of things crashed a bit so I am relieved to be back.

Physical church as also set to reopen but it’s so covid-secure/restricted. I think of the hymn writer who wrote the hymn:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

I have often found myself this year wondering what he meant – whether he personally wanted 1000 literal (okay metaphorical “literal”) tongues to sing with, to express his praise for God – or whether he wanted 1000 people with one tongue each to praise God together. Either way, congregational singing has been banned for a year which is really shocking, in terms of liberties. Who would have thought that? It’s so dystopian, but here we are. I wonder when I will ever be in a room with 300, 500 or even 1000 tongues, to sing my great Redeemer’s praise… It’s a great hymn. A good one to belt out. I am “normally” belting it out on the violin – but I will maybe sing this one if we are ever allowed to sing it again.

We had tree surgeons in this week and our back garden is looking very different. There is a lot more sky; a lot more sky. I will be interested to see if there is, as well as the vast vast sky, a lot more wind and whether this means there will in time be a lot fewer pieces of garden furniture… We will see. So I will certainly have plenty of fresh air and bright light.

Despite the failure of the world to get to the end of the pandemic, and despite the sickening quagmire that is the state of politics, I hope you are enjoying the longer days and the prospect of spring. Whether we look forward to getting a haircut, celebrating Easter or scheduling some sunny garden visits – hopefully we can shake some of the 2021 scunneration.

I came across this poem by Edwin Morgan which, although it is describing getting scaffolding down from his building, manages to get across my mood at the moment and the lifted spirits that you get from more light, more sky and a sense of greater freedom around the corner.

The Release, by Edwin Morgan

The scaffolding has gone. The sky is there! hard cold high clear and blue.
Clanking poles and thudding planks were the music of a strip-down that
let light through
At last, hammered the cage door off its hinges, banged its goodbye to the
bantering dusty brickie crew,
Left us this rosy cliff-face telling the tentative sun it is almost as good as new.
So now that we are so scoured and open and clean, what shall we do?
There is so much to say
And who can delay
When some are lost and some are seen, our dearest heads, and to those and
to these we must still answer and be true.

Weekends Away

It’s the middle of February. In normal times, I would probably be away the weekend away. I love a weekend away. Not a city break or a jaunt to a holiday house – but a Christian residential weekend away – with children or teenagers. The best times.

My first weekend away was to Comrie Crusader Centre forty years ago. Here’s what I loved about it. Bunk beds in dorms, sleeping bags, singing, daft sketches at the “show”, discussions, hunt-the-leader in the village, a long walk up a hill in the rain, buying sweets at the shop, making crafts – but most of all, and, not just in Comrie but in a large range of weekend-away venues – thundering around the venues – large houses – whooping and hollering, high jinks and hysteria.

When I got too old to go as a teenager, I went as a leader, then as a cook. The kitchen is the best place to be on a weekend away. Well, when you are my current age, the best place to be is in the kitchen. The kids get to do more than thunder about the building, although I suspect that is still a favourite thing – especially when they play hide and seek in one of these big houses in the dark.

I love to meet random people, or have people I know and be with them on a cooking team for a couple of days. You get to talk and talk and talk and make food. You serve it and the job is largely done. You get to clean up and disinfect the surfaces and sweep up and mop and make the kitchen look perfect.

I think it is the talk and talk and talk thing that I like. You are engaged with people in a context that is just social – the “temporary community”, living at close quarters with other people – so you actually have time to talk and talk – and listen to people’s experiences of literally life, the universe and everything.

As a kid and teen I loved the bible teaching, absorbing whatever the theme was for the weekend and having the chance to discuss it, and fill in wee worksheets or gather profundities in a notebook.

As an adult and parent, I now look back on these weekends – as a child, teenager, young leader and cook – I can see so many life lessons and life skills that everyone is missing out on just now.

They perhaps first learn how to make their own bed on their first weekend away. Kids have to learn to take a turn with the chores to make the temporary community work. There is no dead time – the activity and interaction is absolutely constant – it is a rich chunk of life. People learn to negotiate who gets what bunk, when to finally go to sleep, how to all get along. Kids get to try new food – and they generally eat it because their parent isn’t there to remind them of their fussiness.

Then there are the pointedly “together” times – that seem so distant right now. There’s the times of meeting, singing and playing music together, discussion groups, teaching times – and then the necessary ceilidh or party or sketch show or bonfire – all designed to have people together.

In 2020 the weekend away was planned for mid June, rather than mid-February. Normally my three kids would go and I would be in the kitchen, leaving them alone. However, the plan was for my son to miss it – he was meant to be in Tanzania. The daughters were going to go – but one of them would be leaving the weekend sharp to catch a bus to France with the school trip leaving on the Sunday night. I would have missed it too – I was meant to be at a wedding…

Absolutely none of this happened.

I am just thinking of all the hilarity not had, conversations unheard, bonfires unlit, hot chocolate still in the packet. And friendships not made and cemented, memories not made. All quite sad.

However, I suppose I appreciate what we had and look forward to a time when we can all get out our kit lists and pack our weekend bags and head off to some big house in the country, thunder about in it, have a cup of tea, some home baking and a long conversation.

Join me?

In pattern pieces

We made a pair of pyjama bottoms! Yay!

But, boak. Who knew that sewing could make you seasick? By the end of the cutting out part I felt the way I feel when I have sorted out too many old photos or something. Queasy.

It’s a whole new world. There’s a whole new language. Even after successfully making a garment (whoop!) I don’t know what some of the instructions meant. (“…use fusible web or machine-basting to anchor them to the garment within the casing area”… eh, yuh…)

We began by watching many YouTubes on how to make pyjama bottoms and then got the pattern out. We wrestled it to the ground and traced it and cut out our pattern pieces.

More wrestling with the sewing machine, getting to grips with the bobbin winder spindle. There was a part where we lost the will. I can’t remember what element of the process broke us. But as a fun hobby, it was taking a turn.

Of course I got the elastic twisted. Of course we don’t have a bodkin. Of course there are a few bumfly bits here and there. But we have a wearable garment.

I don’t think I know who I am any more, though. This is the most not-me activity I have partaken in since…. nope… nothing…

“This is the way” we fail to diet, on a cold and frosty morning #mandalorian

Lockdown #2 or is it#3? Who can say? Whatever it is, it is not helping with my annual new-year-new-me efforts. It was all going so well, and now I have reached my “Mayday Mayday” weight and need to turn this ship around before it starts to impact on my clothing choices. (Not that I am going anywhere. Still dressed like a stage-hand.)

We are watching Mandalorian and enjoying it more than you’d think. Most of all I am thinking of adopting the Mandalorian’s game-changer of a dieting strategy. He keeps going into insalubrious bars and cafes and ordering snacks for the Child – but he sits there – snack free – as he can’t take his helmet off in front of any living thing. What a win. It would look a little mediaeval though.

The Child on the other hand – that boy can eat! I am still reeling from his behaviour in the episode I watched last night when he was eating the eggs of the frog lady who was trying to save the future of her species. He was SO NAUGHTY! He had been TOLD! Shocking.

So, why the weight gain? I blame the weather a bit. I was doing well with the running and the exercise – but I am not wanting to break a leg so I didn’t go running when it was pure icy and pure snowy. Just doing daily online strength and fitness classes clearly doesn’t cut it. My watch tells me they are only about 160 calories a go. Which doesn’t amount to much in terms of Double Deckers. It has just been too cold. And miserable.

Secondly the working from home is not helping. Too many cups of tea (and the accompanying pairs of chocolate digestives) to be had in between bouts of connectivity – and access to a frying pan doesn’t help with lunch choices. In real life, one can get ahead of oneself and pack a lettuce-based lunch in a box and, when the time comes, that’s what you eat. Faced with bacon, egg, beans, chips, pies, bagels and anything else I bought at Morrisons, I am too easily drawn into thinking hey it’s a lockdown, might as well eat one of everything.

What’s that you’re saying? I don’ t need to lose weight? Shucks. Thanks guys. It’s muscle? Aye, maybe. I know, I know, weight isn’t something worth obsessing over in a pandemic.

But it’s annoying.

It could be worse though. I mean, a garganutan spider might land on top of my spaceship, rendering space travel impossible until there’s some kind of deus ex machina moment…

Hand Sewing on a Saturday Night

So, like, sew, like, tonight you find me (apart from the blogging) sewing. I am some way off from the finishing touches stage, but I have made significant headway in turning a pair of jeans into a handbag. If you know me in real life, you will know that this is uncharacteristic behaviour. I am having a wee break right now on the back of the carpal tunnel, so that’s good.

Doubtless I’ll be running up my own dresses in a matter of weeks, but this comes after a lifetime of very much not ever sewing. Daughter #2 now has a sewing machine and we are on a very 2021 kind of learning curve.

My primary school friends will vividly remember stitching various bits of felt to various bits of hessian, and my secondary school friends will also enjoy a flashback to the girls making a “wall hanging” while the boys made a “tool belt”. Not a life skill that has come in handy until now. Which is just as well. It is only now, at the age of 47, that my short sighted eyes have balanced themselves out, so that when I take my glasses off I can see close up, as if I had reading glasses. Very handy.

So, to document this learning curve, I’ll tell you what I have learned so far.

Firstly, sewing machines don’t seem to have evolved. And the nursery favourite “wind the bobbin up” now has new meaning. Quite a lot of faffing involved before you get going.

Next, I advise caution when giving the instruction “foot doon” which is ambiguous in the sewing context. While one person in control of the machine might take the instruction to mean “get your foot to the floor so as to accelerate”, the person giving the instruction may well be advising the operative to lower the presser foot onto the actual fabric. If in doubt, call anything a “bobbin winder spindle”. It probably is.

So, what have we accomplished so far? Well, we have savaged (not a typo) a few garments from the recycle pile and managed to sew a few bits to other bits. Today we successfully “took up” a pair of pyjama bottoms, so that was, in fact, a useful thing.

Inspired by Celebrity Great British Sewing Bee in the last couple of weeks, we have now got a pattern for making pyjama bottoms and ordered some extremely cool fabric. I hesitate to mention this, in case there is some expectation on your part, dear reader, that you may, in future, get to read about the creation of some wearable garment. We live in hope.

So, Saturday night in lockdown sees us waiting for “The Wheel” to come on and for the carry out food to arrive before Sturgeon bans it and me, sewing together two bits of what used to be a trouser leg. Very less waste. But somehow not very rock and roll.

Happy New Year! 2021

What a beautiful day! – winter sun shining horizontally by the time I was up and about. We went to the windfarm, which was mental. The whole place was sheet ice that we kept thinking would get better as we walked, but got worse and worse. Like fools, we persevered on foot to the viewpoint, keeping to the edges, avoiding the glassy sheen of the paths. Arran looked glorious in white. Cars going vvvvvvp trying to get out and occasional poleaxed pedestrians, looking up helplessly at the clear blue winter sky.

We made it home without having any kind of incident likely to put pressure on the NHS, so that was a win.

I feel compelled to have a reflect on 2020 but feel absolutely scunnered at the outset of writing it and am therefore utterly confident that anyone reading it is scunnered at the thought of reading any further. The blinking COVID has been so pervasive, anything I could say, any angle I could come up with, any life-observation I could have – is so universal, there’s no point in having it. Annoying. But I will give it a go. 

First up, there is the structure of the year. Genesis – when it all kicked off in Wuhan and we wondered whether or not it would be a thing, then it was a thing; Exodus – when we all left where we were and went elsewhere, pitched out of schools, churches, gyms, restaurants; Leviticus – rules, rules and more rules – stay at home – stay alert – FACTS – hands, face, space; Numbers – doomscrolling every day at 12.20 for the day’s stats; Deuteronomy…

Then there are my heroes of 2020 – the people who adapted and persevered and didn’t miss a trick – body, mind and spirit all kept ticking over thanks to the efforts of the BMF whom I love, my amazing colleagues whom I love, and the Church whom I love. I was extremely fortunate to have plenty of COVID-secure “in-person” life going on and am thankful for everyone I physically saw. 

There’s also the thing about what’s normal now and how my brain has been rewired. Isn’t it odd how, when you see something on the telly that was recorded pre-covid, that you sort of wince when you see a crowded place or when people shake hands? It all looks so wrong. 

Despite my lifelong social ineptitude, it is interesting to see how fundamental socialising is for us all as humans. Early in Genesis, God observed that it was not good for man to be alone. The postponement of weddings, cancellations of physical graduations, shows, concerts, parties, trips, retreats and the paring back of funerals showed us that our times of togetherness punctuate our lives; it is the times together that get remembered, that are significant. 

It does make me suspect that the 20s will be, yet again, roaring.

Uncharacteristically, I do hope so. 

How to bridge the gap between left and right

When I was at school studying History, I had a diagram of political leanings. It was a spectrum from left to right with a big chunky centre and really thin tapering bits on the extremes on the left and the right… although it was set out like a crescent – with the extremes of left and right almost touching – with fascism and communism ending up pretty close to one another. 

From my limited understanding the left and the right are oddly paradoxical. The right are supposed to be into the rights of the individual – and the left are supposed to be into the rights of the group. But, the left are all about identity politics and the rights of the individual and the right seem to be more about order and structure, rather than fragmentation. But whaddooIknow?

It is Remembrance Sunday today – which reminds me of a quote about war that can perhaps shed a bit of light on this question. Bertrand Russell said:

“War does not determine who is right. Only who is left.”

I know this has nothing to do with left and right in the political sense – but when there is a gulf between people that could descend into conflict I think it is important to think about how one’s opinion and how correct you think you are is not more important that the fact that your political opponent is a person, a human being – and if your side wins, that doesn’t mean you are necessarily right about everything. I think it puts the onus on the “winners” to extend their concept of “us” to include the opponents. That might take a bit of imagination, but it is important to find a common denominator. Humanity is always a good common denominator. 

I think the first step to closing the gap between left and right is to ensure that people are people first. 

I can’t help but be drawn back to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In the culture in which he lived, the Good Samaritan  would not have been criticised for walking on by on the other side – but it was better that he helped; it was better that he gave of himself to bring back to safety and health someone he would have argued with, someone he would have opposed in  demonstrations.

To close the gap between right and left will take as many steps as there are people. It takes a Marcus Rashford to persist with Boris Johnson. It takes each individual to be ready to listen and learn and love and be open to understand the fears and concerns of the other. And when that happens, I think the other stops being the other. And that is the trick. 

The solution, as ever:  “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. 

We just need to learn how to do that. 

Winter Warmers #1

I haven’t got my tree up yet – but I understand the people who are cracking into the sparkles in their attic already. There are lots of things to love about winter; this is the first in a wee miniseries of ‘winter warmers’. First up, a sonnet:

Yes! Let it snow; let it snow; let it snow!

Deck the halls with fairy lights and tinsel – 

Let their sparkles sparkle; get some mistle

-toe hung. Trees up, decorations aglow.

Bring in the ivy; get a holly wreath;

Have outside’s evergreens inside displayed!

Merry gentlemen will not be dismayed:

Golden wrapped gifts stacked, shining in beneath

Our Christmas tree bedecked, dazzling, bright.

Pinpoints of metallic light shimmering,

Reflecting in faces, eyes glimmering,

Looking up to the crowning star’s own light.

Bring down a star from the heavens above:

Tidings of comfort, of joy and of love. 

Households

We have heard a lot about households of late. I never really thought of my nuclear family in terms of a ‘household’ until 2020 – but now everyone is 100% aware of their household or bubble. We know the difference between home and away.

When the students went off to Uni, they formed new households, making it tricky for some – as popping home to Mum and Dad is messing with the household thing. 

It makes me think, for example, of the Philippian jailer who, when he was converted, was baptised along with all his household: 

“…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.[…] And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”

The household seem to all be on the same rejoicing page.

The other thing it reminds me of is a bit more random. We were up north, looking round a castle and the guide pointed out a raised lip in a doorway and said it was a “threshold” – and said that in the past, the floor would have been covered in stuff/by-products of threshing as a floor covering, and the lip at the door was to keep the threshing stuff in, hence it was a thresh-hold. So, this made me think of a household as a lip, somehow – trying to keep the people “in” – defined and together. 

This morning I was at church again, where currently 50 people are allowed to be under one roof. I am not sure how many households were represented – I could have counted – as each household sits entirely separately with a huge expanse between them and the next household or bubble.

And then that made me think about the physical building as one might describe it as the ‘house of God”. So these verses came to mind: 

Better is one day in your courts

than a thousand elsewhere;

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

than dwell in the tents of the wicked. (Psalm 84)

The psalmist would rather be on the periphery, if he couldn’t get in, than anywhere else. He’d rather be on the Test and Protect Information Station with Hand Sanitizer in the foyer than somewhere else. He’d rather be monitoring the threshold. 

But in the New Testament, the emphasis on the building changed. As people converted to Christianity from a variety of backgrounds, a new ‘household’ was created: 

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, […], with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 

It’s weird, though, (but then, what isn’t?) that this inclusive image is harder to see now that most people are not physically there. They are on facebook in the comments or watching on YouTube and are still “members of his household” but they just haven’t made it over the “threshold” since Lockdown. Or maybe it is just that the “threshold” of God’s “household” is a button on a keyboard, at everyone’s fingertips. 

We can just Enter. 

Three Chairs #micah6verse8

It so happened that I had a bit of a chair-thread on the blog before lockdown. There was this one, and then there wasthis one. And then there was a global pandemic that made having physical chairs in the physical church neither here nor there. No one was sitting on them.

Today we were back in the church – and I find myself not having sufficient brain capacity to reflect on what the time away has taught me about life, the universe, everything, worship and the point of being alive.

All through lockdown there were sort of cool points being made about the concept of ‘exile’ versus the concept of ‘exodus’ and which one we were in. Also the old chestnut – ‘can you be a Christian and not go to church? – was re-addressed from a fresh perspective, due to the fact that no Christians were going to church anywhere, but there was certainly a sense of the church, globally, thriving – particularly at the start of lockdown when the whole thing tumbled online and landed pretty securely. I suppose it brings us back to basics – what should Christianity “look like”?

In the pre-Covid era – there were any amount of ministries that Christianity could look like. All kinds of service: care, befriending, support groups, learning contexts, music ministry.

Imagine it had been your service to make the tea after church for decades and suddenly that isn’t a thing? Or, in my case, your service is to play the violin every week? Or the outworking of your faith is to befriend the elderly? Or your worship took the form of prayer-counselling?

And then you can’t do these things. In fact, you can “stay at home” and love your neighbour by leaving your neighbour squarely alone.

I was left reflecting on what the bottom line is, when the whirl of hive activity at a local church has a boot put through it and it all stops dead. I found the following verse which I think is helpful and so I have decided that it is my text for this academic year, during which I hope to find the truth in it and learn to live by the wisdom in it.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This reminds me of the rich young ruler who asked “What must I do to be saved?” and was told to give all of his possessions away and he turned away sad as he was totally rich. I always think that the answer he was given was something he couldn’t do because that was the answer to the question – “What must I do to be saved?” It’s an “impossible” question as there is nothing that “I” can do to be saved.

So what can “I” do (when I have to stay-at-home/there’s a pandemic on / when i can’t do my usual thing)?

I think that the verses from Micah pare back the life of faith. In the passage, the writer makes the point that there is nothing that humans can do to pay back God for his blessings with their worship. Anything that they do for him is simply what it is. However, I love this conclusion that there are three things that the Lord requires:

To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Aren’t these three great concepts? (And, as a bonus, a dream for anyone structuring a sermon…)

Being knocked out of our familiar patterns takes us back to first principles – and these are hugely challenging – not least because my mind has not yet got to the bottom of any of these concepts and how they would ‘look’. But I am enjoying the ideas and the challenges at the heart of all three of these ideas.

The downside (or is it?) of looking at ideals is that it brings one’s own shortcomings into sharp focus, and I suppose, ultimately, that is a “good thing”. As soon as I start thinking about “act justly” I start squirming when I think about my impact on the world – whether is is through buying kit-kats  (I didn’t) when they are not Fair-trade or ordering new cotton leggings (I haven’t) and the eco-impact of that and being fair in my interactions with others.

Mercy sets off all kinds of “The Merchant of Venice” bells in my head – always aware of Portia’s two-faced two-facedness when she lectures Shylock over his lack of mercy and then bulldozes him into denying his own identity, which isn’t very 2020.

Mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” This is a tricky one as there really is a balance to be struck between the justice of “act justly” and the mercy of “love mercy”. And I love how it is “love mercy”. Learning to balance justice and mercy I think is a good challenge – to be like God in attitude – “gracious and compassionate – slow to anger and abounding in love”.

The image of “walk humbly” I also enjoy as it has this idea of being on the move – there is progress – you are going along with God. So, despite the “stay at home” phase, there were always the walks – when people would walk with the sole purpose of going for a walk – not to get anywhere but to be out walking – not to meet anyone but to be with whom you were already with. I think that “walk humbly” is a good concept for 2020 when it is all about getting through it – not trying to get anywhere – literally or metaphorically.

Anyway – I think it was more of an exile than an exodus – as we came back.

Hip Hip Hooray!

Hip Hip Hooray!

Hip Hip Hooray!

 

 

 

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