Monday, October 23, 2006

S(e)oul Searching

Like the outfits?

No - they are not dressed up for Hallowe'en.

These are guards at the Changgyeong Palace in Seoul, which I visited in 2002.

I am looking forward to developing links with Korean friends by speaking at the Korean Church in Glasgow this coming Sunday - but I don't expect anyone to be dressed like this.

Like Glasgow (but on a vastly greater scale) Seoul is built along the banks of a river, the Han. Together with the surrounding mountains, the river helps to establish the character of the city. It also was for me something of a metaphor for what was an all-too-short visit to South Korea.

The poem below comes from the time of that visit.

Sunset on the Han River

On the south bank of the Han
the late Spring sun
lowers herself gently
onto the lap of the pale white hills.

Gentle fingers of soft cloud
caress her forehead
and she stretches and settles for the night,
pillowed by the earth's embrace.

The Han slides slowly by
beneath its ever-busy bridges
while darkness descends
like a benediction.

I would find it easier
to gather the Han in my arms
or cradle the sun in my lap,
than, with a few poor words,
hold on to moments
that have meant so much.

© Iain D. Cunningham

Well, I didn't manage to see my football team playing this weekend... so they lost 2 - 1 to Celtic.

I really think Motherwell FC ought to pay me to be a spectator. When I go they win! (Well, it has happened twice.)

I couldn't go to the football because on Friday and Saturday I was at Harrogate for the Northern Christian Resources Exhibition organised by Christian Resources Exhibitions. I was part of a team giving a presentation on the forthcoming three day event in Glasgow which is to be called "Nexus 2007" Check out what it's about.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Open Doors and Closed Minds

Another picture from Kenya.
This is inside the "Church of the Torch" at Thogoto (Thogoto-land is apparently a Kikuyu corruption of 'Scotland' and this was where Scottish missionaries settled over a century ago.)

I loved the sense of peace that is evoked by the shaft of light coming through the window and touching the stone.
Not long before I took this picture there was some considerable controversy in Kenya about church windows.

Here's a little piece of verse written many years ago


He wanted to say
I’m just like you
I’ve got fears and depressions
And hang-ups too
He wanted to know
The carpenter’s son
But the men at the door
Wouldn’t let him in.

They didn’t say no
They didn’t say go
They didn’t say anything
But they let him know
That his hair was too long
That his speech was too broad
That he shouldn’t be seen
In the House of God

They asked for his card
He didn’t have any
They asked him for money
He hadn’t a penny
He wanted to ask
For compassion and care
But the people inside
Had none to share

He’d heard someone say
There was really a way
Out of all the depression
That made up his day
A way out of emptiness
Hunger and fear
But the men at the door
Said it wouldn’t be here

And while he was waiting
Alone and outside
Along came a man
Who stood by his side
His hair was long
And his hands were tough
His face was worn
And his speech was rough

He didn’t say no
He didn’t say go
He didn’t say much
But he did let him know
That his love charged no price
And had no limitation
That he offered his life
Without hesitation

So the two men tried
To enter again
But the faces around
Said we don’t want you in
This isn’t the place
For people like you
Come back when you’re like us
And then you’ll get through

If only they’d offered
To understand
If only they’d stretched out
A welcoming hand
They’d have touched the wounds
And noticed the blood
But his hair was too long
And his speech was too broad
And he shouldn’t be seen
In the House of God

© Iain D. Cunningham

Friday, October 13, 2006


No, this is not the Tartan Army on the way back from the Ukraine! It's a group of Kikuyu people in Kenya, dressed in traditional costume, especially for the tourists. I took the photo four years ago on my first visit to Kenya while staying overnight at the Outspan Hotel.
I remembered the picture because over the last few days or so our church has had a Kenyan guest. (Julian runs an orphanage near Kikuyu in Kenya which our congregation helps to support.) Although I never actually got round to donning my kilt at any point during Julius' stay he still managed to get in a few light-hearted digs about the Scottish "skirt." And then I remembered that men wearing skirts were not confined to Scotland.

One of the places I took Julius to see was the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre. The story of this most famous of all Scottish explorers and missionaries never fails to move me, so I am always glad of an excuse to take someone there.
It's a pity that a lot of Scottish people these days hardly know the story- no doubt because Christianity is unfashionable at the moment. But you don't have to be a believer to be amazed at the single-minded commitment and determination of this man, especially to challenge the slave trade. He is someone who really did make a difference. Because he treated other people as if their lives mattered, in the end his life mattered and was worth something.
If you've never been to see where he was born and to learn about his commitment to Africa, and you can get to Blantyre some time, you should make every effort to do so. (You'll see this impressive sculpture depicting the time he was attacked by a lion.... He lived to tell the tale.)

While I'm talking about heroes... one of my other heroes, of a very different kind, is the Irish fiddler, Martin Hayes. Strange, you might think, that I should place him alongside David Livingstone. Martin Hayes himself would certainly think so, I'm sure. But there are some similarities. Well at least one I can think of. When Martin Hayes picks up the fiddle and gets into the groove he has the power to move people really deep down. He touches something in the human spirit that can transport people to another place, another world almost.
I was fortunate to hear him play at a Fiddle Force Winter School at Wiston Lodge. There were about forty or fifty of us crammed into the large lounge and when Martin Hayes played he was like a puppeteer pulling all of our emotional strings. (No wonder the Church in Scotland used to be very suspicious of fiddlers!!)
I wrote a short poem about it:

Banishing the wolftones*

With narrowed gaze
and shuffling stare
he crouches low
into the chair
as if in search of something
deep inside himself.

He lifts the fiddle bow,
and slow,
to touch a string
that waits to be caressed
back into being.

By his gentle authority
and fierce care,
a tune vibrates
and spirals in the air,
released as some wild bird
into a desolate place.

He is wrapping
precious pearls of silence
with a bright silver foil
of sound,
and offering it to us
as a gift of grace.

I take the gift,
the bait that lures me
into a strange land,
for he has found,
and now ensnared,
my soul.

His awkward body now
unwinds and sways
and breathes
with every phrase,
rocking as a Jew who prays
beside the western wall.

How many centuries of longing
does it take
to form such sounds
that break,
and heal again,
by harmonising
joy and pain?
© 1998 Iain D. Cunningham

*wolftones — name given by fiddlers to the accidental
screeching sound of the bow on the violin strings

Written after hearing the Irish Fiddler, Martin Hayes,
playing at Fiddle Force Winter School 98, Wiston Lodge

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Scoreline to Savour

Wow! talk about winning!
How's this for a scoreline:

Scotland 1 France 0.

Played three: won three!

The picture on the left shows the River Clyde in Glasgow at night. A picture of serenity and peace.

But I guess not tonight for many people - apart from the raging storm blowing strong winds and heavy rain across the west of Scotland tonight. I think among football fans anyway there will be a storm of celebration.

I know... winning isn't everything. But when it comes to competitive sports, losing isn't anything! So let me just savour the moment. No doubt several months from now Scotland will contrive to do its usual trick of "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" and failing to qualify for Euro 2008, but for now our team sits proudly at the top of the group and the rest of us congratulate them.

And now back to sermon writing....

.... until the highlights come on the telly!