Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

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!

 

 

 

The Bright Side

Obviously there is nothing to like about a pandemic. But I can’t deny there are aspects of lockdown that I have absolutely loved. My last post was all my moans – hopefully this one will be more optimistic.

I remember the first few days of just watching the rolling news, dressed in my lockdown default of all-black stage-hand-style leggings and a t-shirt with cosy socks. We don’t need shoes in lockdown Scotland. We could save the world and all we had to do was “Stay At Home”.

I have loved watching my daughters have the childhood they would never otherwise have had. Lockdown managed to put a stick in the spokes of our crazy 2020 bikes and pitched us all off onto the grass verge of our homes. For once, children have reached the level of boredom that just wasn’t possible for their generation until now – and once they hit the bottom and “finished the internet” – then they got to do the other stuff. While some people got on with catching up on a lifetime’s worth of sleep, others made up games, baked things, drew things and learned to structure their days. There was finally time to go outside and… just be outside.

It has been lovely to see families out on family walks. In strict lockdown, country roads looked like weird Lowry-style paintings with matchstick men and matchstick families all trotting about looking at scenery and hearing birds sing. Families gave families polite wide berths and cheery hellos and it was sunny, sunny, sunny.

I wonder – in a good way – about the long-term effect of all of this nuclear-family time on the children and young people. Workaholic parents have had time to play that dull game with their kid, read that dull book to their kid – tantruming toddlers may well not have had to tantrum as much. It was always moments of transition that I found trickiest as a parent of very young children – getting shoes on, coats on and in the car – what a faff! Think about all of those trips and journeys that didn’t have to happen since March – all of those arguments unhad… Yes, the kid could in fact just sit there and watch Shaun the Sheep on repeat while eating crackers and cheese all day or whatever. Grumpy toddlers’ hearts may be, for once, content.

I wonder about families of teenagers – where traditionally – the teenagers feel misunderstood and not-listened to. Maybe, they have had time to talk. And think about the exam stress that was just lifted – just like that – “You don’t have to sit your exams”… Imagine! (Okay so the stress transmogrified into all kinds of other SQA/examining body related anxieties – but, what a weird moment!) From the usual exam-induced insanity of March all of a sudden to unbounded gaming time. Joy. And parents delighted to have gaming teenagers because they weren’t breaking lockdown rules. Yes, son, stay online.

Working from home also had its upside. First of all was that I was so impressed that we didn’t miss a step. We just went home and kept on working. We adapted overnight. Just like that. I think it shows that necessity really is the mother of invention – and it gave us a chance to try new things and interact in different ways and be genuinely creative. No commute. My kids also just adapted – they logged in, did their work and then enjoyed the rest of their day. I am excited by the possibilities that are open to us now, now that different ways doing things were actually tried out, instead of just imagined.

Going to Morrison’s was one of the most exciting things to happen in my week (no change there…!) and I only went once a week and I went in a planned and thorough way. This kind of efficiency was great – and clearly possible. I want to carry that on and spend less of my life staring vacantly at shelves of chopped Italian plum tomatoes wondering whether or not I need them.

Before lockdown my diary was kept rigorously; I had to sit down and “go through” it on a regular basis, in parallel with my emails, texts and WhatsApp and check that none of us were going to miss anything –  trying to coordinate the most infeasible matrix of pickups and drop offs, meetings, rehearsals, classes, trips, events… And then that flood of “cancelled” emails came through and the diary went from insane/impossible to… blank. Weird.

I think there is probably a happy medium between Stay at Home and whatever it was I was doing before. I hope we all manage to find it.

 

 

My July

This is just another post for posterity. For future reference, we are “easing out of lockdown”.

I am just back from dystopian Silverburn where everyone is walking about with their nose over the top of their mask, being overheard saying, “I feel like I am trapped in a bad movie. A really bad movie.”

They are not wrong. I thought I would capitalise on my shopping-induced bad mood and have a rant about some of the things about lockdown that have done my head in over the last couple of months. I’ll leave the virus out of it.

I have had enough of watching grainy-quality zoomy headshots on the news, of people being interviewed too close in. In particular I have had enough of the interviews where people are still looking physically down into their computer, making me feel like Romeo on the receiving end of Juliet’s line:

O God, I have an ill-divining soul.
Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.

I have had enough of the BBC badgering Sir Captain Tom Moore for interviews and honours. The guy wanted to recover from his operation and raise a bit of money. His intention was not to become a global superstar with a microphone in his face. I am so scared that some numpty will give the man Covid. Hopefully they will leave him alone now. Soul.

Then there was Swinney’s trick with the tablecloth and the cups/the rug from out from everyone’s feet. One week schools are likely to be blended-learning for an academic year – the next – whoosh – who can say? Plan at random, everyone… Very annoying. They could have said it was blended until Mid September and decide Mid August what would happen then, but no. Then there will be the fallout from whatever the SQA results look like, then there will be the knock on effect of any changes to the SQA arrangements for Session 20/21… bleh…

And who knows? Perhaps “blended learning” is going to turn out to be a missed opportunity for top pedagogy in the senior phase? Imagine PE for three hours, where they have time to get changed, warm up, do a real actual thing have a real actual shower? Or in Home Economics, they could actually make a thing. Or in drama they could watch or act out a whole play? In Social Subjects/English, senior pupils could “take responsibility for their own learning” and actually get on with it and learn some independent research skills in the home-learning time – same for science I imagine…. but maybe we will never find out…

And what is with the order of things out of lockdown? With two keen swimmers to entertain, the fact that gyms and pools being about the last thing to resurface is personally annoying – but it makes no sense to me (not that I have any actual knowledge, science-wise). It appears that obesity is one of the most common co-morbidities. I remember one of the first British Covid deaths – and the TV said he had no underlying health conditions – and I thought, eh, yes he does – but maybe there is a bit of political correctness or fear of fat-shaming – but obesity is a killer – now more than ever. Why then do we allow people to go into restaurants and gorge themselves on beer and fries, but don’t make provision for then to go and burn it off at the gym or in the pool? The water is (again, I have no actual idea whether or not it is effectively) dilute bleach – one would have thought that would be a pretty good place to bob about in a covid-free zone.

Even more nuts is the slow slow progress towards outdoor group exercise (which happens to be my hobby). Ms Sturgeon seems to have designed the most unlikely kind of sleepover party in people’s homes – but outdoor fitness is only for tiny, tiny numbers. Hopefully that will change soon.

As lockdown eases, in my current mood, one begins to remember things that were annoying from the time before that are beginning to become part of life again: filling up with diesel; getting overheated in shopping malls; having to remember to be places. And at the start of things everything was “unprecedented” and now it’s all “the new normal”. Yuk.

Sorry this has been a moan. I have two other posts that may or may not get written – one is a tribute to my lockdown heroes (I wonder, are you one of them?) and there is another bubble of thought about how we shouldn’t miss this window of a chance to change. I’ll see if I can shake myself into a better mood and get on with writing them.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing (Spoiler Alert!!) by Delia Owens #wherethecrawdadssing

I repeat, SPOILERS INCLUDED.

I was happy to read this over the last couple of days. The weird thing was that I had been scouring Netflix looking for a good courtroom drama while reading this and (perhaps I am slow on the uptake) I didn’t realise that this was going to turn into a courtroom drama – so that was an unexpected bonus.

Some people asked what I thought of the book, so here’s what I thought of the book:

I loved the wee map at the start of the book – reminiscent of the wee maps in Milly Molly Mandy books and not as impenetrable as Middle Earth. Very nice.

The first chunk of the book was a bit cliched and a bit sweet’n’sour – there were too many descriptions of food – giving me flashbacks to “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg – and too much crudely drawn toxic masculinity. (This wasn’t helped by the fact that I recently read “One Shot” by Tanya Landman – about a young girl in a shack and various horrible men. So maybe this book seemed more cliched than is fair.)

Unusually this book then seemed to improve. The novelist is a “nature writer” and it was this aspect of the book that was most interesting. Throughout, there were observations of nature and particularly socialisation and reproduction. As the book progressed it was more and more clear that Kya in her shack and the various male characters were aping the animal kingdom – or the writer was making a point about humanity being fundamentally animals or part of nature.

So the writer’s knowledge and skill in this aspect probably won out over the cheesiness of the lovely parts and the clumsiness of the horrible parts. All in all this was a cool element.

“The language of the court was, of course, not as poetic as the language of the marsh. Yet Kya saw similarities in their natures. The judge, obviously the alpha male, was secure in his position, so his posture was imposing, but relaxed and unthreatened as the territorial boar. Tom Milton, too, exuded confidence and rank with easy movements and stance. A powerful buck, acknowledged as such. The prosecutor, on the other hand, relied on wide, bright ties and broad-shouldered suit jackets to enhance his status. He threw his weight by flinging his arms or raising his voice. A lesser male needs to shout to be noticed. The bailiff represented the lowest-ranking male and depended on his belt hung with glistening pistol, clanging wad of keys, and clunky radio to bolster his position. Dominance hierarchies enhance stability in natural populations, and some less natural, Kya thought.”

The whole novel was really binary with male/female contrasts throughout, which in the current climate, felt kind of odd and refreshing:

“Now, Miss Kya, this ain’t nothing to be ‘shamed of. It ain’t no curse, like folks say; this here’s the starting’ of all life, and only a woman can do it. You’re a woman now, baby.”

I found it odd that Kya didn’t get pregnant at any point in her life, given the plot and the theme of biology and reproduction – but maybe that was why the novelist left it out. As Kya became an author, I wondered whether the book was based on a real person and that would explain why she didn’t have children, if the real person didn’t have children. (I really enjoyed a book like that  – “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd. It is a total fictionalisation of history – I just thought it was fiction – but no – she was a real person and certain historical details had to be kept in the fictionalised account – so I thought that “Where the Crawdads Sing” was perhaps like that, but no.)

The courtroom scene was reminiscent of “To Kill A Mockingbird” with the town soaked in prejudice – although in this case against a white woman – and I enjoyed the court scenes.

The criminal case provided the structure for the novel – from the discovery of the corpse to the discovery of the truth, interspersed with Kya’s whole life story. It was very tidy and a structure worth emulating.

So, I liked the setting and the symbiosis and the biology and I love what she did to the place, as it were. I didn’t like the poetry, the depictions of the white men generally, as stereotypes/generalisations and, as usual, I felt un-represented as a Christian woman – as they were a wee toxic bunch in the novel.

A good book for a book club, I think. And a good one for 2020 where themes of isolation and connection are very pertinent. It does make you want to get a wee boat and go swooshing about spotting wildlife in balmy weather. Not so sure I’d want to eat as much grits as were mentioned.

My Life on the Run

I have watched a lot of “Hunted” of late. I think I would be amazing at it. The trick is to not phone anyone. So, that’s me. It’s a win.

I imagine I would love it. All I need to do is to wait ….. (parallel universe)…. and then go to Tiso, buy myself some wild camping kit, apply to go on the show and then … go on the show.

I would run, run, run off grid to places I had never heard of and hunker in bushes for a month, then pop up, get on a helicopter and win.

What makes me the perfect contestant for this show? Well, I am hardly likely to phone anyone, am I? I hate phones. Then there’s that achilles’ heel they always look for – that someone can’t go a month without touching base with a spouse or a kid…. Then there’s that thing where in the last week of the show they all start homing like daft pigeons.

Just don’t go home….

So, as you can imagine, when the daughters suggested we camp out in the garden, this was right up my street. In my garden, in fact. Anything to break up the lockdown monotony. We could kid on we were away the weekend or indeed on the run.

We had just watched a Toff and Stanley on the run episode and then we piled out into the tent to avoid the Hunters.

Birdsong, traffic and a light breeze. Toff and Stanley flickering through my subconscious with my shopping list for Tiso. Me, not phoning anyone. Running to the extraction point. I’m going to win…

After not very long, I wake up needing the toilet. But I don’t want to wake the daughters. I go back to sleep. I wake up again. My right hip is aching like I am in the third trimester. It’s weird though – I am on an actual mattress. I shift about a bit, careful not to annoy my bladder. With hip and bladder out of harm’s way, I drift off again.

A wee draught gets into my sleeping bag. The zip is broken. Don’t know why I picked this sleeping bag – after all, this is the one that nearly killed me by being sadly inadequate in sub zero temperatures at the Grand Canyon in 2001… I shiver and drag myself back to the present with my regrettable sleeping bag, my aching hips, my aching back and my aching legs. How rubbish is this mattress?

At 5.30, everything was in pain. Aching from head to foot, I gave up and rolled out of the tent and into the house, got myself some tea, toast’n’chocolate spread and settled down to some BBC News 24.

My whole wild-camping strategy is now somewhat in tatters. I am arguably too old and decrepit to sleep in a tent. Maybe even Stanley Johnson could give me a run for the money. Unless the key is to go to Tiso with a bigger budget than I imagined, for a hip-friendly belter of a Therma-rest Self-Inflating mat.

So, we finished all of the “Hunted” and “Celebrity Hunted” shows last night. One star of the show is the psychologist Donna Youngs, who can read the competitors’minds and predict their strategy and reactions, just by scrolling their social media.

My daughter has pointed out, that by writing this post, I have become very easy to catch.

But then, just like the most predictable contestants, I am, of course, at home.

 

Lockdown Life 2020

Everything I could hope to say or describe has already been said, has already been described or is already a meme. I have nothing to add. I am a living cliché, like everyone else.

Catapulted into lockdown life, I turned to Zoom and banana cake like the next person. And online church, and working from home, and online fitness and a brief flirtation with the Houseparty App before deleting it in distaste. Checking in with friends. Finally finding time to moisturise my feet on a daily basis.

It is certainly preferable to the last few weeks of life before lockdown, when the inevitability of the impending lockdown was all around us – in the scarcity of hand sanitiser and the ever-growing unease around other people. The slow slide into dystopian doom was stressful – and all we wanted was for the government to say “Stop!”. And while we didn’t want all our fun plans cancelled, we knew that they were already not going to happen.

And then we all went home.

So, like the next person, I watched “Tiger King”. Then, like the next person, I tidied out the cupboard under the stairs. I cleared the playroom so that it could become an isolation room if necessary. I filled the attic with everything I wouldn’t need in lockdown. I cleaned the whole house.

The house was clean.

I read a book.

I watched back episodes of “Hunted”. I read some more. I laundered and laundered. The sun was shining every day. I watched sunsets and saw Venus. I watched BBC news on loop.

Here is a regular day in lockdown:

Early, my daughters and I do an online fitness class in the garden. It is never raining. After that we are buzzing for the day ahead. We watch some breakfast TV. Naga Munchetty’s jumpsuits and footwear are a source of joy. She chooses something glorious every day. After breakfast and a shower I log into work. I tweet a thing. I check my emails. I update my online content. Then the system starts to slow down as the rest of the world logs in and I give up and have lunch. It is lentil soup.

Afternoons might involve a walk or some reading or housework or something child-related. All the while I am checking work stuff to see if it is working or if it is buffering buffering buffering…

Then at some point in the afternoon I will think that filing, reading, writing or research is a good idea, then I will fall asleep and then wake up wanting a cup of tea. Pretty much then there is the covid update from the UK Government that I may or may not watch. And the Scottish one, I don’t seem to catch, except later on twitter, with a voiceover.

Dinner might be a delicious thing that took ages to make or a total fail that I couldn’t be bothered with. Or a total fail that took ages to make. Or a delicious thing that I couldn’t be bothered with.

Then the evening comes, accompanied with an impressive sunset. And I read things, watch things, listen to things and eat things.

So, I just wanted to record that here in case a grandchild someday has to interview me about 2020. Hopefully, now that all of that lockdown normality is out of my system, I can focus on fascinating and pithy observations for future posts on WeeScoops.

Stay safe, stay home.

Palm Sunday 2020

I wish I had managed to find my green paint today. I would have made a big palm leaf made of palm prints and put it in my window for Palm Sunday. I could only find orange and pink paint though. And that wouldn’t have looked right.

Not only was it Palm Sunday, it was Child#3’s birthday today, so we began with our usual birthday morning celebrations and then an online fitness session, a family zoom and a cooked breakfast. Next up was online church.

The online church and the online fitness are weird. For once, our fitness instructor gets to “mute all participants” while at church, where we are normally pretty mute, we get to comment amongst ourselves while the service is going on.

In both, it is weird but nice to have people pop in from all around the world live.

Palm Sunday, against the backdrop of the COVID, is different to normal Palm Sunday. Firstly, the increase in the usage of “palm” in relation to one’s hand-washing technique makes you want to find your green paint. Then there’s the fact that Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem would perhaps have been a damp squib in 2020 as there would have been no one there.

Although that wouldn’t have mattered. It turns out…

It’s one of my favourite details from the story (that I wrote a poem about a few years ago: “Stony Silence”) that there are stones there, that would have burst into praise if the crowds had been absent. (If a tree falls down in a wood and no one is there to hear it …/ If Jesus arrived and no one is there to shout Hosanna …)

When the religious leaders moan about the noise and lack of social distancing going on, Jesus says that if people weren’t shouting out, the inanimate stones would have to take over and do the shouting in lieu of the crowds. Here’s the passage:

 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’; ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’; ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’

From our current perspective, and for the first time ever, it is striking that there is a “whole crowd” of disciples – and even the “loud voices” are not really part of my experience at the moment. The religious leaders didn’t have a button for “mute all participants” and they didn’t have “stay at home” restrictions in place. Like we do.

img_1457

So, we stayed home all day. We had a zoom party for my daughter’s birthday against the backdrop of Catherine Calderwood’s Facepalm Sunday. While we had chat and chocolate cake, she had to apologise to the nation for taking the ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ thing to a new level. Awkward. She probably wished she could “mute all participants” too.

However, on the day of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, there was a lot of shouting, but in a good way, and the stones didn’t have to break into praise.

I am sure they would have been crystal clear, even if their voices were a bit gravelly. Maybe they would have been a bit boulder than me. Yes, I’m sure they would have rocked.

Best Laid Schemes and Life and Death #stayhome

Back in August, I woke up with my usual ironic excitement with the start of a new academic year.

I reached out of bed, grabbed my phone and hit on Bible Gateway’s “Verse of the Day”, to see “what the bible gateway verse for the new session would be”. The verse was Romans 14:8:

If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

In my Facebook status, I shared the verse and commented: “It’s a win, no matter how it pans out. I think that’s what it’s saying.”

And how it panned out, it turns out, was the pandemic.

That verse, that I took as my text for the academic year, then turned up again.

At church we are working through the “New City Catechism” and the first “question”, that we covered – I think – back in January, relates to that verse:

Question 1: What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The verses that accompany the question are Romans 14: 7-8. You’ll recognise the second half despite the version being a wee bit different:

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

Then, in early February, not long after Burns Night, I was asked to speak at a Coffee Club for older adults. I decided to go in tartan and play some Burns tunes on the fiddle and recite “To a Mouse”. I also delivered a very short reflection on the meaning of the poem and my perspective on the issue it raises.

Having inadvertently destroyed the mouse’s nest, the poet farmer observes:

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!

The poet understands that the mouse is not alone in having to deal with the unexpected. Despite careful planning, the mouse was unable to anticipate or deal with the plough crashing through his home. He was expecting to be able to get through the winter in his “cozie” home but was left with his “best laid schemes” going wrong and being left with “grief and pain” where he had planned joy.

The poet sympathises – both “mice and men” can have their “best laid schemes” destroyed by unforeseen circumstances. The poem concludes with the poet suggesting that the mouse is better off than men:

An’ forward tho’ I canna see,

I guess an’ fear!

The poet here suggests that man can perhaps anticipate things going wrong and when he looks at the future, he worries.

After describing the poem’s message to the members of the Coffee Club, I talked through that verse from Romans, about how, for those that belong to the Lord, the future – although uncertain, does not necessitate the fear that Burns alluded to in the poem.

If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Any amount of best laid schemes have gone “aft agley” that’s for sure – for absolutely everyone. My 2020 diary already feels like a weird historic artefact with dates and flights and events that just aren’t going to happen. I am sure yours does too.

We are just going to stay home and see what happens.

(The mouse, of course, couldn’t stay home…)

My original reading of the verse back in August might seem flippant or naive. I don’t think a pandemic can be classed as a ‘win’.

However, whether I live or die, I belong to the Lord.

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