Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Spice is the variety of life

Just back from another excellent meal at the only Korean restaurant in Glasgow (maybe Scotland?) It is called Kokuryo

I was there with a group of Koreans to celebrate the graduation of one Korean friend (EunJin) from Glasgow University- as an MSc. Well done, EunJin!

If you've never tasted Korean food before... you should. But don't ask what is in any of the dishes. It is better not to know. Only joking about that. (But if you don't like seafood you may struggle.)

One of the Koreans asked me if the food wasn't too spicy for me. "No." I said, "not too spicy at all." He pressed me further. "Well, on a scale of 1 to 5 where would you put it for spiciness?" "About 3," I said. He was quite surprised by that until I explained to him that Glasgow is the curry capital of Europe- and we like our curries hot. Of course, Korean food is very different from Indian food but, as I pointed out, I've had many years to get use to chillies and garlic. It would have to be very hot to beat me!

In fact, I like to try any kind of food, from any part of the world - and there is not much that I can't eat. Some people, however, can be extremely fussy. Often, I suspect, it is because they just won't take the risk of trying something new. They prefer to play safe with what they already know.

It's not just in food that this applies, though. It's the same with ideas and experiences. Some people are afraid to entertain new ideas, or new ways of thinking, or new ways of doing things. Churches are full of these 'fussy eaters' who only want what they have always known and are not willing to try something new. But not all the 'fussy eaters' are in churches. You can find them anywhere.

I still love a good old-fashioned plateload of mince and tatties (minced beef and mashed potatoes for those not familiar with this traditional Scottish dish) but not every day.

A little bit of spice adds variety to life.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Eye in the Sky

Another snap from my short trip to London.
Maybe I should explain that the reason I only have pictures of the London Eye and not from it is that I am more than a little bit nervous about heights.
It's one of those irrational fears that sometimes creeps up on you from behind, just when you think you had it beat.
Given this particular phobia which I've had since early childhood, it may be surprising to some people that I once got a job in a roofing company. It's true though. (I was a student and needed the money and it was the only work I could get one summer.)
I have to confess that in a number of respects it was a thoroughly educational experience for someone training to become a minister. When I started the job I was more or less terrified of any height above my own head, but it's amazing what you learn to cope with when necessary, and after a few weeks I was clambering up roof flashings 50 feet off the ground and walking on slate roofs 100 feet up (...sorry I still think in the old measurements - you can do the conversions yourself...) without any form of safety harness, or rail to prevent us slipping off and turning to mince on the pavement.
I don't know if the Health & Safety Executive had not yet come into being but I do know that there was precious little concern for our safety and I wasn't convinced the job was good for my health.
Anyway it all came to a head (wall-head that is) one day when I was almost at the top of a ladder that was leaning against the wall of a factory, whose roof we were allegedly repairing. The main problem was that the length of the ladder was a little bit less than the height of the wall. (About 30 feet.) It meant that to get on to the roof you had to stand on the second top rung of the ladder, grab the wall head flashing, and pull yourself up. A fairly risky business at the best of times.
On this particular occasion, the foreman, a rather cocky Glaswegian with a slightly warped sense of humour, was holding the ladder for me. Just as I had arrived at the second top rung and was reaching out to grab hold of the wall-head, the foreman suddenly pulled the ladder away from the wall and began shaking it backwards and forwards while I clung on like a performing monkey. Clearly my performance was bringing some joy and entertainment to my supposed protector below as he was bellowing with laughter. Then he shouted up some words that I doubt I will ever forget: "All right then, Reverend, let's hear ye sayin' yer ******* prayers noo...!"
He didn't hear me saying them... but that doesn't mean that they weren't being said!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Water under Westminster Bridge

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go down to London and visit my daughter, Linsay, who is currently working at the Houses of Parliament. It was good to catch up with her news and also to meet in person some of the people she is working with.
I especially enjoyed being given my own personal tour of "the corridors of power" with Linsay as my very own tour guide.
Of course, I couldn't take any photographs inside. But I did take the obligatory tourist-eye cliche snap of Big Ben, with its gilded stonework gleaming in the sunshine.
I wonder how many times this has been photographed?

I also wonder how many of the people who live in London ever actually look at it - or any of the other "sights" for that matter?
It's the same wherever you go around the world. The majority of the 'locals' just take for granted all the things that other people have travelled many miles to see. They no longer seem to 'see' them at all.
What good photographers are able to do, though, is make everybody see the most familiar of things in a new, and sometimes surprising, way. It's what all creative artists do. I think it's also what preachers are supposed to do.
It's not easy.

Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of time to share with Linsay - and even less time to think about creative photography - but I did try to look at one the latest London sights (the London Eye) from a few different angles. All from ground level I hasten to add. I tried to make use of the low sun, as if it was shining through the lampost, but it didn't quite work.
Ah, well... I guess I'll just have to take another trip down to London some time....

What I find sad is the way so many people seem to go through the whole of their lives failing to notice what is around them.
You only have to really look for a moment to see that every moment is unique and that even the most familiar sight is not the same as it was a moment ago. But if you plod along waiting for life to happen to you, you're going to waken up one morning and discover it has already rushed past you like water under a bridge.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reflections on the Indian River

With the rain pouring down here and the days becoming very short, I decided to haul out this photograph of the Indian River at Cocoa, Florida, another one of my favourite places in the world.
It's such a tranquil spot in the early morning as the sun comes up.
We have also stood in that same place to watch a Space Shuttle launch, although (if I remember correctly) that particular launch was postponed.
It's some time now since I visited there, staying with some very special friends.
Somehow the approaching winter weather has given me a notion to go back. I wish I could.
I suppose there have been lots of times in my life when I wish I could have gone back- perhaps to do things differently, perhaps just to relive some special experience, but, of course, time doesn't work that way for us. And the only way is forward. I just hope that will include the possibility of visiting Cocoa again some time soon.
On a much less serious note- the script for our church pantomime has now been completed and rehearsals begin on Sunday. We have until the first weekend in February to get the show on stage. Not easy with Christmas in between (not to mention regular work!!) But I think it is going to be great fun for everyone who has volunteered to take part.
At this stage, I'm not going to give away any secrets about the plot or the characters, but I will reveal the title: Jack and the Beans Talk.
Now that's an original one isn't it?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

These feet were made for walking...

OK - technically it is not much of a photograph. It's just something I managed to snap quickly through a shop window in Venice. But what a cool pair of shoes, don't you think?

Shoes disguised as feet!! Now that's what I call originality!

I guess we all know what it means to walk in someone else's shoes - even if it is not something we do very well. As a Christian I am supposed to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, but I don't find that at all easy: not when I start to think seriously about some of the things he said.

In particular I am thinking about his command to his followers to "Love your enemies!" I'll be preaching about this on Sunday- though I don't yet know what I'm going be saying.

I tried to find a hymn that might go along with the text but, to my surprise, couldn't find anything suitable. So I decided to write one myself today. It's a bit rough yet. One or two lines I'm not happy with. But I won't have time to refine it before Sunday.

Although my congregation will give the hymn its 'premiere' you saw it first here!

It is no easy task, O Lord,
to walk the way that you have shown,
to pray for those who wish us hurt,
or love the ones who cause us pain;
yet your commands are very clear
we cannot doubt what you desire.

For your example, Lord, is plain
and your commands are all too clear;
forgiving words at insults thrown,
demanding words for those who fear—
“Love more than friends, love enemies too:
not only those who will love you.”

Give us the strength, O loving Lord,
to take this costly path of peace,
and though it be no easy road,
teach us this day to live by grace;
as children of our God above
we’ll learn to walk the way of love.
© Iain D. Cunningham, 2006 [Tune: St. Petersburg]

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Eyes Wide Open

I had a great time at the Korean Church on Sunday and, thankfully, everyone was infinitely friendlier than the character in the photograph, taken in 2002.

[The photo is of one of the four 'guardians' at the entrance to a temple in Seoraksan National Park in Korea. I think it is called Shinghungsa (Temple of Compassion) but I can't really remember now. What I do remember is that in the gatehouse there were four of these characters each about 4 metres high. ]

But, as I said, nothing like this greeted me at the Korean Church in Glasgow. Instead I was given a very warm welcome and, after the service, a very large and tasty meal! (Prepared by the young adult group.)
It is a good experience to go to a place where you are very definitely in the minority and where you do not understand the language. You learn to listen in all sorts of other ways.
It is also an interesting experience to preach with an interpreter - something which I have done not only in Korea but also in Kenya.
Having a naturally inquisitive mind I really enjoy meeting people from different cultures. I enjoy even more the chance to visit new places and see for myself the rich diversity of cultures that still exist in our world, in spite of 'globalisation.'
But I find it sad that many people seem to be afraid to step out of their own comfort zone and learn about those who are different from them- not only in language or customs, or colour, but in other less obvious ways.
Of course it is important for people to belong to a 'tribe' but some kinds of tribalism (as anyone who lives in the West of Scotland will know) can be depressing and dangerous and lead to a very narrow view of the world.
I feel privileged to live in an age where an ordinary person like myself has the opportunity to explore something of the rich diversity that exists in the world, and, thanks to new technologies, we can all do some of that exploring without even leaving the comfort of our own homes.
But if you want to taste real kimchi you do have to go to the people who know how to make it.