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Poem for Palm Sunday

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for 5 April 2020 (Palm Sunday)

1st April 2020
Dear Friends
As I type the date I wonder if somehow a great April Fool’s trick is being played on us, confining us to our homes, whilst somewhere else, life continues as it always did. But in truth I know that it doesn’t and that actually the calm surreal atmosphere I see from my window is very different for those confronted by the sort of medical emergency that we thought was consigned to history.
The strange thing about isolation is the confusion of ways to keep in contact – for those who are surrounded by technology. I’m aware that for those who are not, this world is even more isolating. So thank you for those who are keeping in touch with one another by telephone, by post, perhaps a wave through the window or dropping off supplies for those who need them. I have updated the website, and will look to keep that up to date. I will post on facebook from time to time and would encourage others to do so as well. And I hope to write something most weeks to keep us up to date and to create a service sheet that you might like to use in your own prayers and reflections.
Some of my colleagues have quickly moved into full blown online mode, with live streamed or pre-recorded Sunday services. Others are experimenting with video conferencing for a Sunday morning. I have been a bit slower, sensing that you are content to pick up what is available on television, radio and internet and that there is no need for me to replicate what is already available. But if you want something more then let me know. I have invested in Zoom – a video conferencing app. We used it for our Elders’ Meeting and I have used it to re-start the Wednesday morning prayers for the Chapel of Unity. I am going to produce a videoed reflection for a series that Lillington Free Church are putting together for Holy Week, so will list the link for you. Let me know if you would value something very specially created by or for Ansty Road.
 
 
That is the end of the notices, it is time to worship God
 
My song is love unknown
my Saviours love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die
 
One of the things that this pandemic has highlighted is our essential workers. Many are in low paid service industries. They are the people who care for our sick, our older people and our children. They are the people who farm, transport and stack food where we can find it. They are the people who keep us connected, informed, cleaned. They are fulfilling many unloved roles.
 
We hold key workers in our prayers – may their frail flesh know life and love.
 
Sometimes they strew his way
and his sweet praises sing;
resounding all the day
hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify” is all their breath
and for his death they thirst and cry.
 
Another is the goodness of praise. It is so easy to criticise, and clearly some have been quick to do so. But praise encourages us onwards, lifts the heart and brings joy for many. We come into Holy Week knowing that the Hosannas will become cries of Crucify, that the acceptance, even excitement of lockdown will become wearying for many, that already Domestic Violence is on the rise and many whose mental health is fragile will be broken.
 
We hold all who are anxious and frightened in our prayers – may they breathe life.
 
They rise, and needs will have
my dear Lord made away
a murderer they save,
the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful he to suffering goes,
that he his foes from thence might flee.
 
On the one hand a pandemic can strike anyone. We have seen the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales being diagnosed. On the other, privilege still protects the Privileged. The wealthy can be tested, and I can isolate in a comfortable house with the ability to work, connect, eat, be entertained. We brought the Night Shelter to an end a week early, and whilst all our guests were moved into hotel accommodation, it was without the comforts I enjoy. From India there was a picture of people being forced into shared accommodation, crowded together – too poor to be isolated whilst chaos capitalists will make vast sums of money.
 
We hold the poor of our world in our prayers – may they find freedom from suffering
 
Here might I stay and sing
No story so divine;
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
 
My website reflection last Sunday, focused on friendship. And this verse reminds me once again of the friendship we find in Christ. That God comes into our world as one who travels the lanes, shares meals, tells stories amongst friends, and calls us to gather as friends of one another and friends of Christ. This is a relationship that endures through all the troubles of life, through isolation and grief and emerges into new life. Easter may feel delayed this year but it will come.
 
We give thanks and sing for the friendships we enjoy – may each know the sweet presence of Christ
 
Be blessed, Craig
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Second Sunday of Social Distancing

Had I been leading worship this morning, my planned theme was Friendship. The gospel reading today was the one where Jesus is called to the home of his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. By the time he arrives Lazarus has been dead four days, Mary and Martha are grieving and Jesus grieves with them. This, despite knowing new life is coming for Lazarus. That need for friends to share human emotion becomes central to their relationship and the experiences they share.

Instead, I spent the morning watching/listening to various friends presenting worship via video/podcast. Each had their own ways of doing so, their own emphasis on the passages. But in each case something of the grief of isolation was expressed, of being apart from other human company. It was good to see them all, to remember how each of these friends has played a part in my life, how much their friendship is valued.

This time of social distancing, has emphasised how much being in the company of other people is central to who we are. Yes we can meet online, we can worship via video link, we can meet in video conference, we can work from home and keep in touch via a variety of social media. But none of it compensates for being with people, their presence and their interaction. I’m even missing the odd hug – not too many, but the occasional expression that come only come from human touch. It makes me realise how important social spaces are for isolated people – those who just come for a cup of tea, speak with no one, but value being able to do so. How meeting as a church is as much about the greeting and gathering as it is the content of a prayer or sermon. These are lessons we must remember when we return from isolation.

This mornings Old Testament text was Ezekiel being invited to see dry bones come to life. It reminds us that throughout human history, people have struggled through hard barren times and emerged with hope. we will do so as well.

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First Sunday of Social Distancing

It’s 10:30am Sunday morning, the 4th Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday, the first Sunday of Social Distancing and I’m sitting in Ansty Road all alone. I’ve put some notices on the outside noticeboards and on the doors, I’ve had a chat with the taxi drivers forlornly waiting for a fare and now the computer is belting out worship songs on shuffle. Church is not meant to be a place where we are alone. It all feels wrong, but I’m glad to be alone, it means that people have received the message that the church building is closed for the moment, that we must put aside our need to gather and take the precautions that we have been told will best protect the most vulnerable to this virus.

But the church is not closed, for the church is Us – wherever we are, whatever we are doing. It is Us when we connect online, by telephone, by post, when we stop to chat with those we see (keeping an appropriate distance apart!)  It is Us when we pause to pray, to sing along to a hymn, be led into worship on television or radio. It is Us when we work from home or when we still need to work in the hospital, the shops, the care home, the school for children of essential workers, the Night Shelter and food queue. 

The computer is playing the song “In love you summon” https://youtu.be/ucIrfFZPDaA

In love you summon, In love I follow

living today for your tomorrow

Christ release me, Christ to enfold me

Christ to restrain me, Christ to uphold me.

Perhaps that is good place to leave this reflection. 

Look after yourselves and one another. 

We will gather together again when we can.

be blessed

Craig

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Easter is Coming

I write at a time when the news is dominated by Covid-19 and our response to it. On 17th March, following advice from the URC that was matched by other denominations the Elders decided to close all church activities. It was a difficult very emotional decision to make, not least to suspend all public worship. That means that there will be no services on a Sunday. We will keep the website  and Facebook up to date, we will look to communicate by telephone, letter or e-mail where necessary. There are lots of online resources being produced and we will communicate those to you. And of course the Labyrinth is in the open air and always open for prayer. 
 
These are strange times and so it becomes even more important to temper the language of fear with a story of hope. For Easter is coming, when we tell a great story of new life emerging out of despair and we need to hear and live that story once again. 
Humanity has lived through such moments before; war, plague, disease, economic crisis have taken their turn and people have dusted themselves down and emerged ready to live again. Often that new life has taken a new turn, and that will be the same again for us, can we emerge from whatever isolation we each find ourselves in ready to shape communities that automatically include the isolated and reach out to the most vulnerable? If we do, then our Easter story has to be at the heart –  a small group of vulnerable, frightened people who discover that Jesus is alive and calling them into a living community of faith.
For the last three years we have been working towards redeveloping the church building, it has been a slow and sometimes frustrating process, but at last we are at a point where we have some plans that meet our budget even though we have lost some elements to make that so. We do not wish to delay a decision on that, so Church Members will receive a communication that will still enable us to look to the future and new ventures that can transform the way we continue to be a living community of faith serving our communities. We are moving into a new era, and the future can be as exciting as the past for Jesus stands amongst us, scarred hands open in blessing. 
Please look out for one another, and the needs of your more vulnerable neighbours. Please look after yourselves – it is not a time to battle on if we are feeling unwell. See you post-Easter.
be blessed
Craig
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Imagining Gardens

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.…” And it was so. God saw everything … was very good. … the sixth day.”

So begins human stewardship of the earth. Sometimes it feels as if whilst God rests, humanity has taken the opportunity to grab more than is sustainable from the garden and dump the spoiled excess back into landfill. There is nothing new in this, except that our ability to exploit has become so amplified, that today we are faced with an unsustainable future. The consequences of climate change will dominate this century as humans struggle for resources. How do we respond as followers of the creator God?

The URC Mission Council has called on URC trusts to divest from fossil fuel companies and to reinvest in clean alternatives. In doing so, it wishes to support and encourage churches and members to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, and so participate in a just transition to a zero-carbon future. There is no simple way of doing so, the electricity for electric cars still needs to be generated, there are challenges in creating an ethical supply chain for raw materials that make batteries, solar panels, wind turbines. We have become so reliant on plastics that we struggle to live without them. I suspect that Earth will survive this crisis, but whether humanity has a sustainable future is the bigger challenge. Such issues are not things that we can ignore, that is why children are taking to the streets, populations are shifting and some have returned to eating vegetables instead of meat. 

Revelation ends in a Garden City, “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of nations.” Now there is a future worth imagining.

be blessed

Craig

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Exit

dangerous times 
for factions circling                   blades out  
hands holding nothing-new

dangerous times 
for fractions sectioning              gold offers
fingers grasping destruction

intriguing times
for power-brokers                     hate stokers
history-tellers shaping chaos

intriguing times 
for strivers, achievers             back-door dealers
strangers on uncharted seas


hungry times 
for blessing meekness open keen young
tongues searching saltiness 


hungry times
for grace-shakers                   peace thumpers
worth-sum of composition


waiting times
for the tribe including         open offers
faith guiding intersection


waiting times
for the tide turning               blades revoked
hope holding all-things-new 



Craig Muir,  Easter 2019

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Knife Angel

I went to see the Knife Angel this week. It was glistening in the early morning sun, looking resplendent and serene. All the time I was there, other people were coming to look, photograph, talk about the message it brings, the times we live in that creates art out of confiscated knives. It is a powerful piece of art.

At the Cathedral it is positioned below Michael, his foot holding Satan to the ground – the triumph of good over evil. In both we are reminded that evil is always seeking out new ways to control us, and that we need to always be vigilant. Knife crime is the particular scourge of our society in these times, so easy to get hold of, the simple weapon of choice for too many. Indeed, many of the knives used to create the angel are the sort of knives we use each day to cut our bread or vegetables – yet these were used or kept as weapons of terror before being confiscated or given up during an amnesty. According to the information boards some arrived with the sculpture in evidence bags with blood still on them.

As we approach Easter we once again tell a story of love overcoming evil. There were some of Jesus’ followers who wanted to meet knife with knife, but when Peter did just that, Jesus heals the one who brings a sword to arrest him. Evil needs to be confronted but through creating a way of life that brings resplendence and serenity into every life.

The Knife Angel will move on after Easter, but knife crime will continue to be a problem until the hope of  Easter glistens in every life.

Be blessed

Craig

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Minister

10 Years On

This month will be the tenth anniversary of my induction to this pastorate. Sometimes it feels like it’s flown by. With my sabbatical and then our discussions about St. Columba’s future the last couple of months have been a time for me to wonder if am I called to remain or Covxit? The more I’ve prayed, the more I still feel the challenge to be here – we have planning permission for the redevelopment, we have interest in the Church Related Community Work post, we have new people coming into the congregation. In addition I was delighted that St. Columba’s have decided to stay open for at least the next year, it was a brave decision taken for lots of positive reasons – not least conversations about new initiatives. Hence, I find myself excited for this new year, looking forward to the challenges and opportunities, wondering quite how we can fit it all in!

Today is known as #bluemonday by some, but the tune I’ve been humming is “Let the Day Begin”by The Call

Here’s to the babies in a brand new world
Here’s to the beauty of the stars
Here’s to the travellers on the open road
Here’s to the dreamers in the bars

Here’s to the teachers in the crowded rooms
Here’s to the workers in the fields
Here’s to the preachers of the sacred words
Here’s to the drivers at the wheel

Here’s to the wisdom from the mouths of babes
Here’s to the lions in the cage
Here’s to the struggles of the silent war
Here’s to the closing of the age.

Here’s to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin

It’s a wonderfully positive song that opens up all the potential of each new day and beautifully sums up my own excitement for all God has in store for us. So let the day begin.

be blessed

Craig 

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Gaps

There is a style of poetry that doesn’t use punctuation

but leaves big gaps between phrases

                                                             Amongst

the leaf                                        fall

your ring remained

golden decay

                I’m never sure how to read it

                                      the breaks spoil the rhythm

and often there is no rhyme any way                                                       So how do you recite such a thing?

But then I find myself pausing in the gaps       

thinking about the line just read

before moving on to the next one

it slows us down                                                                   no more rushing on

 

Sabbatical has been such a pause

between phrases

time to reflect on the last line                    

to unhurriedly be ready for the next.

 

Advent is also meant to be such a pause

although it can often feel like we are rushing through the lines in preparation for all that will come

I hope you find somewhere to pause        

                                 to craft a break, relish the moment

reflect on the last line be ready for the next

                                                             discover treasure in the gaps

 

be blessed

Craig