Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Midweek Musing: why create?

I know there's something about art and creativity that compels the artist so that you create for yourself, for the sake of the act of creating art, regardless of whether an audience will receive your art.

But what if your raison d'ĂȘtre as an artist is the community?




What if your calling is to be the bard, the storyteller, song singer, sacred space holder, for your community. And what happens if you are, and that call is affirmed and confirmed in many ways along the way, but actually, does the community receive your art, listen to the stories you tell, enter the space you hold, look to you at all as one they have affirmed in this role? What then?

Do you keep on crafting words if it feels like voices will never share them?

Do you continue to curate space, virtual, real, if it seems like people will never enter them?

Do you continue to be who you believe you are called to be, if you are not seen?


These are questions I ponder, listening to a poet perform a piece in affirmation of artists unseen, poets unheard: create, because you no longer need an audience. (from the beautiful 'Welcome Home', by Joel McKerrow)

But I need an audience. Not for me, for the work I am called to create.

Then I ponder, shouldn't I, like Julian or Hildegaard (I imagine) write simply because God compels me to write and care not for human readers and hearers? Isn't composing for God enough? Isn't God my audience?

Well, yes, in a way, but also no. Because the story I tell is God's story, and I tell it as an invitation to listeners to be caught up in the story of hope and of love and of life. The poems I write are expressions of humanity, in order to invite others to reflect on their humanity, to hope and love and live. The prayers I compose are to be spoken to God, that is true enough, but even they are intended for speaking by other humans, to participate in hope and love and fulness of life.

I don't write for me, although I do write and perform because it is what is mine to do, for the fulness of my being and the fulness of our humanity together. I don't write for me; I write for us. 

But I am not always confident that I have an audience, that anyone needs my words, reads my words, hears my words; and it makes the words that much harder to write, to speak. And as I face a crossroads, the next step along the way of this vocation so far so well affirmed, I find I do not know which way to go. This has never been an easy path to travel, and although a season of stability and certainty is tempting after this particularly challenging season in Scotland, I will continue on the hard road gladly, for its rewards are many and varied.

Because I do what I do with a particular sense of doing it for my community, I think I am a little lost, not knowing where my community is now. That's the expat's lot, I'm afraid, having lived abroad, you're never quite home in either place, having home in both places. I have no sense of whether I am to go 'home' to Australia, stay here in Scotland, or travel somewhere new. I have no sense of where the Spirit might be leading; I have no sense of which community might welcome me home.

And I feel as though I am drifting. I feel as though I have no audience, and I do not know for whom I am creating, and it is making the creating that much harder. I hope these will be feelings that do not last much longer, though I know they are feelings I will encounter again. For despite it all, I somehow manage to hold on to my hard-fought understanding of who I am, creative woman of God.

I am a bard who travels between communities, carrying the stories of our people and our God, and helping others live their stories well.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Midweek Musing: two women, wondering who we will be?

There are moments in life for a little bit of 'crazy'. For 71/2 hours of travel to see a movie with a friend. Because she is leaving for the highlands after lunch and the movie times in Edinburgh are awkward, making the logistics too complicated to get our heads around, and we've waited long enough to see the film and don't want to wait any longer. So it seems simpler to drive north with her in the morning, see the film in Inverness, and get the train back south while she drives on to stay with friends for the week.




The drive gave friends who live in different towns time to chat, to sing songs, remember the bands of our youth, share stories. It gave this PhD student on a well-earned break a change of scenery, the sense of movement, a drive and a train ride will provide.

The timing hadn't quite worked out, to take this week off when my sister is here later in the month, so I'll be working in between our adventures to Paris and around Edinburgh. But this week I needed the days at home doing nothing much at all, some brunches and lunches and catch-ups with friends in Edinburgh, and this one day out of the city, travelling, breathing in the highlands, the heart of Scotland. I needed to get out of my head, interrupt the cycle of circular thinking about what will I do once the PhD is done; about whether to choose safety, security, full time work, to opt for home or stay where I am or move somewhere new again, do I go back, go forward, or stay. Do I keep to the calling, the itinerant vocation, find part time and spend the spare time consulting, writing, performing... ?

I had planned, the day before, to write a job application, but didn't. So I planned for the train ride to write the job application. But a couple of hours in, now writing this blog post, I still hadn't got any further. Because the day before, instead of doing what I planned, I found space to return to the stories I had wanted to tell when I moved from Australia to Scotland. I've sent two different versions to two different publishers, but it's still not on anyone's list.

I had seen a tweet asking for stories of 'failed' fresh expression endeavours, and remembered the book lying figuratively in a drawer somewhere. I pulled it out and read it again, tweaking, starting to add the story of this latest season, and revising the structure. I will print it and polish the writing now, for after all the writing for the thesis, I think I have improved. And I will try another publisher.

As I read the story again, this memoir of a 'pioneer' emerging into my own expression of pioneer ministry, I was reminded of the conviction I have known for this vocation. That conviction that brought me to Scotland. That conviction that kept me here, determined what ways I would and would not earn money, for I refused to take steps away from the path I had set. I did not take time from the storytelling and poetry, though I may have earned more money by tying myself to one place. I knew I needed to be free to travel, an itinerant, wandering bard in the land of my ancestors. For this was why I came here.

It was hard most of the time. Family and friends didn't always understand, wanted to keep me safe. But the spark within, which I took the first decade of my adult life to identify what it was, would not be extinguished. It insisted on guiding the way, and who was I to refuse?

Who am I to refuse now, though I may be tired from this journey, exhausted from the challenges. If I claim commitment to nurturing the fulness of our being, humans together, then how can I deny my own?

She didn't know what drove her, but young Diana felt the spark ignited within. She pursued it, obeyed it, followed its light on a path in opposition to her mother's command, made in the hope of keeping Diana safe.
She could not refuse the call from within, pulling her to be her fullest self, for her wellbeing and that of the world. Diana - Wonder Woman, the movie we saw in Inverness - left all behind in order to be true to herself. 'Who will I be if I stay?' she asked her mother. Who indeed. Not who she is destined to be.

Who will I be, if I choose the safe road, the stable job? Who will I be? Where must I go next, is the question I face, where to go, in order to continue to be true to who I am?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Midweek Musing. On retreat.

Early in June I attended a writing retreat with School of Divinity postgrads. It was one of my favourite weekends yet, in this Scottish Sojourn of mine.



Friday morning 14 students gather at the foot of The Mound in Edinburgh to board a bus that will take us north of the city. As we load our bags and await the last few arrivals, we chat with those we already know. We're a diverse bunch, some Masters students, some PhDs – and among them, first, second, and third years. We are from Ecclesiastical History, Religious Studies, Science and Religion, World Religion, Biblical Studies, and Theology programs. We are from various countries in Europe, from India, Australia, the USA, and the UK. We are women and men of various ages, dispositions, and vocations. It is a wonderfully and effortlessly diverse group of people, all grateful for this weekend away.

I love driving through the Scottish countryside; in fact, I find journeys of any kind to generally be a joyful space in which to be. On the road, the track, in the air: on the move. We had a big bus, and we spread out, close enough to chat, room enough to stretch. Two and a half hours north of the city.

The Burn is off the main road, in between little villages, and the bus was directed around the back to a long drive, through the grounds a way, past the wall and the sheds, around the corner to the front porch on a vine-covered Georgian facade.


Actually it's not entirely Georgian, but I'll get to that.

The sun was out, and so was our host, so we unloaded our bags and stretched our legs with a short wander across the grass, before stretching out on the grass in that sunshine. Someone found the croquet gear, and the satisfying sound of mallet on ball accompanied our lazy waiting for the host to return from offering hospitality to a walking group who were being introduced to the house and the grounds.

my room was as big as my studio flat! 
Then we got the story, of the Georgian house built by a successful soldier who had no children; bought by an entrepreneur who owned two thousand people in the West Indies (a shadow on the history of the house), and fathered not quite that many more; then sold again to another entrepreneur who knocked down walls and built a large extension in the 1930s, so that the house is now a blend of two of my favourite styles and I was in heaven.

The house became less than heaven for the family whose son did not return from war and so his inheritance, or the house at least, was given to the Goodenough colleges in London as a retreat centre for postgraduate students. That's its main purpose still, more than 80 years later, and they do it very well. 'The house is yours while you're here,' David said, the latest in a line of retired colonels who have managed The Burn (a couple of managers were not colonels, but their stints were less than successful). We'll sound the gong when the meals are ready, serve tea and coffee between times; we'll open the bar at 6 pm, and keep it open as long as you're drinking. Use the sports equipment, walk along the river, we've plenty of space for you to explore and enjoy the fresh air; plenty of spaces inside for your work as well, make use of it and we'll keep out of your way.

So we had late (for some) breakfast at 9am, found places to work in drawing room or library or tv room (which had no tv, but a couple of long tables), or outside. Those who were in need of a break went for walks or played croquet and left those still working in peace to crack on: there was a generous spirit of respect for each other, the various ways we all work, and the need to not work for a a while. Sammy had set a gentle structure for the weekend, which had us working from about 10 until 6 with an hour for lunch. On Friday afternoon after tea and pancakes and our introduction to the house, we gathered together for introductions, and shared our goals for the weekend. I found that helpful for my own work, to name what I wanted to achieve with this time we had set aside. It was also helpful for inquiring of each other - how's your chapter going, your thesis outline, your conference paper or book review? A little accountability, some shared interest, and solidarity in the task of writing.

I set three goals: write the abstract for the thesis; finish Chapter One; review Chapter Six. I finished the weekend with an abstract I liked (subsequently tweaked with help from supervisor); Chapter One pretty much finished (I've since addressed the fiddly ends that needed tying); and Chapter Six cut down to a much more manageable size thanks to the notes from a friend who had read it through the week before.

It rained a little on Saturday, but even that was lovely, bringing smells and sounds of life and freshness, and even a peel or two of thunder (another of my favourite things).

The meals were wonderful and plentiful, and we sat in different groupings wherever we gathered, on lawn, around table, or in that drawing room straight out of a Jane Austen novel. In the evenings, over drinks, we talked writing and politics, discussed the merits and theory of Myers Briggs personality inventory, and debated Hogwarts house designations. Friday night we sat outside on the lawn, enjoying the sun and the long twilight. Saturday we were inside, the grass still wet or rain still falling, I forget.

On the walks, people found Salmon sleeping or leaping upstream, greeted the donkeys and cows, and found the blue door that gives its name to that particular walk along the river. My walk on Saturday before breakfast was a slow meander, as I stopped to take photos of interesting flowers and tree roots, and the river bed of jagged red and grey rock visible through the clear, clear water.

Strangers became friends, as the New College community stretched like a tree in the sun and the rain, and grew a little stronger, a little healthier, over three days at The Burn in Glenesk.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Midweek Musing. On not voting.

I am eligible to vote in the UK elections. I choose not to. A few thoughts on that.



I am a citizen of the British Commonwealth, which gives me the right to vote in Britain's elections while I live here. Because Mother Country. Because Liz II is our queen.
Wait. But voting has nothing to do with the queen, because the head of state does not participate in the decision making processes of parliament.
Also, I don't think Australia should have the head of state of another country as our head of state. (That being said, I'm not voting for a republic until we have a model of head of state that basically looks like the current model but the Governor General represents Australia, not the Queen). If I don't think Australia should be part of Britain as one of the dominions of the realm, it seems inconsistent, if not hypocritical, to participate in their political decision making processes.
So citizen of the British Commonwealth alone is not enough to compel me to vote this week.

I am a citizen of the Commonwealth living in the UK.
But I don't live here, as a choice of where to make my home, my permanent residence. I stay here for the present. I am on an extended visit for the duration of a program of education then I'll likely go home. If I end up getting a job here and making it a more permanent place of residence, then I will participate in elections. But I would not make decisions on the way to raise another's children, designate responsibilities within another's household, or participate in the discernment process for a church in which I was not a member. Not going to participate in the decision making process for a country in which I am a visitor. I disagree with your giving me the right; I disagree with your asking me to be responsible.


For those who reside here, live here, call the UK / Great Britain home. You not only have the right. Even more than that - much more importantly, in fact - you have the responsibility. The elected representatives represent you, serve you. Do not abdicate your responsibility to choose the most appropriate representative for your community. Please.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

when the church shows courage and imagination

I recently experienced a moment of deep hope, and want to capture it, if I can.



Around a table with pioneer leaders and their support team, we watched as the fruit of years of building relationships exploded with bountiful life.

A situation of lifelessness, disappointment, and abandonment has become over two years an opportunity for flourishing for the pioneer worker, the realm of God, the community. By partnering with a church of another denomination the mission of the church, rather than the empire of a denomination, will grow. By partnering locally, support will be more readily available to affirm and enable this innovative minister on what can be a lonely edge of the church. With a visit from one of the residents of the community, we heard first hand how relationship through this pioneer has healed a broken spirit, and taught this person to care again.

What else does God ask of us than this?

I felt privileged to be around that table, to experience the joy of possibility, witness the creativity and compassion of this pioneer leader, and share in the gratitude and excitement for the transformation of this work from disappointment to hope.


Entrepreneurs are being nurtured and empowered through our other pioneer, and we celebrated the 'graduation' of one business from the incubator, its operator ready to grow further, and explore new opportunities. Through relationship the entrepreneurs are not only empowered in their business development, but as humans, through pastoral care, opportunities nurture spirituality and wholeness through connection with faith community in various ways. This pioneer, as as so many pioneers, is an entrepreneur also, and with art and craft is participating in relationships, community, advocacy, to help people find confidence, new skills, wholeness, peace; to give voice to the voiceless and join people together in giving of their abundance in support of the vulnerable; to make beautiful things because beauty will save the world.

I felt inspired around that table, at the partnering of established church with artists and pioneers who are going out into the world, the local community, showing up expecting to find the Sacred, and telling the Story for the sake of the world, the church; in honour of God.

Pioneer ministry / alternative church / fresh expressions may not look like the church with which we have grown all too familiar. These stories look very much like the story of Jesus, however, who met people where they were, broken, isolated, lost, and he offered them love, welcome, respect for their God-given dignity. Such relationships heal; they bring all parties into the fulness of being that is God's dream for creation.

These are stories of what it truly is to do, to be, the church today. May more established churches have the courage and imagination to support this kind of work; to support such artists and ministers, going ito the world to be present and nurture wholeness and healing where they are.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Sing on.

An ode to Manchester. 23.05.17 

Petals bled their white
and red, from roots
buried deep under hearth
of home; but the Song
outgrew the Roses.

Streets and theatres burst
exploding from a spark
buried not so far from hearth
and home; but the Song
drowned out the Blitz.

City centre blast
to rubble, the cord
buried within the hearth
of home; but the Song
outlasted the Troubles.

Small shadows flicker
light eclipsed, the switch
buried by the hearth
of home; but the Song
will outshine Terror.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

midweek musing: aid for those seeking refuge



This week is Christian Aid Week. Christian Aid began in response to the number of people seeking refuge after World War II. This beginning reminded me of a story from my (in)humanity series: a response to those who needed refuge, protection, help, during World War II.