Saturday, September 30, 2006

Winners and Losers

I went to watch my football team today. (Motherwell FC)
We've been having a pretty hard time since the start of the season. I say 'we' but, unfortunately, for a variety of reasons I hadn't been able to get to a single match until day. But I chose the right day to go, because we won 5-0.!!!
I was going to say 'Poor Kilmarnock' but, to be honest I didn't feel much sympathy for the opposition at all. It's been such a struggle for us to get any points at all this season that today's performance and result were very sweet.

But, on reflection, I remember a Charlie Brown cartoon which had a caption that went something like: "Everybody loves a winner, but who is going to love the losers?"
One person who certainly did was Jesus. And I think if his followers are really following him they will do the same.

The photograph above was taken a number of years ago in Kenya. I have many more photographs like that one which underline the fact that much of the continent of Africa is pretty much the loser in the great economic competition that is going on in the world just now.
We are hoping soon to have a visit from a Kenyan friend who runs an orphanage (of which there are many in Kenya.) But his visit will depend very much on whether or not he is able to get a visa. That's another reminder to me that this world is a pretty uneven and unequal place. Being a British Passport holder I've never had any problem getting a visa to any country I've visited - and rich people from Kenya have few difficulties in obtaining a visa to come here, but if you are poor... it's a very different story.
I suppose we do need to limit economic migration into this country and, as far as possible, prevent illegal immigration, but all I can say is I am glad that God doesn't seem to operate the same sort of policies for entry into His kingdom- otherwise none of us is going to get past that particular border.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pools of light

It's been a difficult day for me in a number of ways. I don't intend going into why but a couple of times during the day, just when I was feeling particularly stressed, I had these surprise moments of sudden peace and unexpected joy.
They reminded me of this little pool of sunlight I saw among some trees in Connecticut, New England. The pale yellow house just caught the sunshine and threw it straight back in all directions so that anyone (like me) who was passing by could catch a bit of it for themselves.
Since we have precious little light of our own, I think this is what we have to do with any light we receive from God- give it back out again, so other people can get a touch of it for themselves.
When you try to keep the light to yourself you just become a black hole!
On days like today, when it sometimes feel like the darkness has taken over too much of the picture, I am able to look back on that photograph which I took a few years ago and recover that sense of peace and know that I have an obligation to share it with others.

By the way, I should have said before, in case anyone hasn't tried it yet- you can click on any of the photos to get a larger version of them. Especially if you want to use any of them as a focus for your own reflections.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Reasonable Delusion?

Tonight I watched the BBC programme "Newsnight" as I often do, and I saw Jeremy Paxman 'interview' Richard Dawkins about his newly-published book "The God Delusion."
It's not the kind of thing I do often but on this occasion I couldn't resist posting my own comments to the BBC Newsnight website.
What I said was simply this:

"What a man of faith Richard Dawkins is! He has an unshakeable (and passionately evangelical) faith in the absolute power of human reason. (Or at least his own.) It's just a pity for him that the history of science is full of people who thought they had the last word on all sorts of things only for later generations of scientist to prove they were talking nonsense, or at best had only a quite limited understanding of that which they had been observing. Professor Dawkins claims to be interested in truth - well, perhaps the truth for Richard Dawkins might be twofold (1) there is a God and (2) you are not him. "
Professor Dawkins might think he is being original but 3000 years ago the Psalmist said "the fool says in his heart there is no God."
We'll see who's right, ultimately.

But I think we should be glad of one thing from the storm in a teacup that Richard Dawkins (as usual) has caused. He has firmly stated his belief in truth. It's a refreshingly 'un-post-modern' notion but one which I share with him. We just disagree with each other on what the truth actually is- although he is a bit more dogmatic than I am in asserting that he knows the truth. I am sure the truth is a lot bigger than any of us can know, no matter how clever we might be.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Clouds in the pond

The photo is of my sister's garden pond and has nothing whatsoever to do with the piece of writing quoted below, but, hey, who cares?

I like seeing the clouds in a pool of water because both originate from each other.

Where is the beginning? Where is the end?

My last post raised the questions of what is true and what is not, what is real and what is not. Below is a great summary of what I believe to be real. Just wish I'd written it myself.

What I Learned from Jesus

A gift does not need to be costly in order to be big.
A little child is worth God's time.
All who believe are brothers and sisters.
Be thankful.
Be the first to say, "I'm sorry," and the first to forgive.
Believing means clinging with your whole heart.
Clothe yourself in prayer.
Commune with God.
Don't judge.
A respected pillar of the community can be two steps from Hell,
and a prostitute can be two steps from Heaven.
Don't worry about tomorrow. Today has enough worries of its own.
Every blade of grass, every twinkling star, every ticklish friend,
is a blessing from God.
Cherish them.
Everything in the whole Creation tells us something about God.
Give someone a gift today.
God delights in you.
God has a sense of humor.
God is a friend who'll never, never leave you.
God is an artist.
God is everywhere, from the highest star to inside your heart.
There is nowhere you can go to escape his presence -- or his love.
God is found, not in earthquake nor fire nor mighty wind,
but in a soft and gentle whisper.
God is your Daddy.
God watches over even the little sparrows.
Heaven is very close.
He is risen!
He who sings, prays twice.
He who dances, sings twice.
He who laughs, dances twice.
He who prays, laughs twice.
Hug your friends.
If you have to have everything under your control,
trusting God may look as stable as a cow on ice skates.
Trust him anyway. It's worth it.
If you want God to smile, tell him your prayers.
If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans.
It's never too late to repent.
Joy comes from suffering.
Keep on forgiving.
Listen to other people's stories.
Listen to the silence.
Love God with your whole being.
Love one another.
Love your enemies.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Make every action a prayer.
Make your prayers and your good deeds secret.
Play with children.
Prayers ascend like incense before God's throne.
Purity does not reside in the hands, but in the heart.
Respect the aged.
Take time to be alone with God.
Tell God you love him.
Tell your friends that you love them.
The Heavens tell the glory of God.
There are miracles all around.
You just have to be able to see.
Treasure God's smallest blessings.
We can bring little pieces of Heaven down to earth.
What you do for the least, you do for God.
Work is a blessing from God.
You are God's image. - Christos Jonathan Hayward From "Jonathan's Corner" at


I was sitting in a car in Edinburgh one day, waiting for one of my daughters. The car was parked outside an estate agent's office and in the window of the office was a large model house. At the same time I could see, in the car's wing mirror, reflections of the buildings behind me and reflections of reflections from the car windows, also in the mirror.
I couldn't resist photographing it because it seemed to me to be just like life itself - so many different layers of meaning, so many angles from which to look at things, so many problems of perception, that it is hard sometimes to know what is real, what is a copy and what is a mere reflection.

Life seems to get more complex every day and we have access to so much information that sometimes it seems impossible to sort it all out and make up our minds about what is real and true and what is not.
The great post-modern temptation is just to give up and conclude that there is no such thing as absolute truth. "If it works for you that's OK!" goes the mantra.
But that's not enough for me. I may not know the 'whole truth' and it is almost certain that what I believe could not be described as 'nothing but the truth' but I can't accept that there is 'no such thing as absolute truth.'

Photographs themselves are not reality: simply one view of something, from one particular angle, flattened into two dimensions. But usually they represent something that was really there at a particular moment in time.
Sorting out what is real from all the other layers is the great adventure of the spiritual life.

Here's an interesting little story I came across. Make of it what you will.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Round the twist?

OK, I know I said I would be talking about reflections and posting pictures of the same, but in my last post I said 'you never know what is round the next bend' and it reminded me of this picture I took in Hong Kong.

I loved the twisting patterns of the walkway because life is just like that sometimes. You think you're going one way and almost before you know it you are going in a different direction altogether.

Few things in nature come in straight lines and, for that matter, few things in life are straightforward. But, then, that's what makes life interesting is it not?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Round the bend

Ravenstonedale, England.

Another peaceful image, taken in 2005.

This picture reminds me that finding peace in life is not about resting all the time: it is about the journey.

You never know what's round the bend- and you never will know till you move on and see for yourself.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The way we learn?

Of all the many, many photographs I have ever taken, this has to be one of my favourites.
I use it as the wallpaper for my laptop, because it is so restful. It was taken on a summer evening at Cornhill House, near Biggar, Scotland.

Do you remember in the Winnie the Pooh stories that Pooh Bear had his special "thinking spot"?
Well, this is mine.
Not that I actually have time to go to the place itself, but the photograph is usually enough to give me 'space' to reflect.

I've heard it said that adults learn through experience. I wish that were true. And I wish it were as easy. In fact, adults only learn if they reflect on their experiences, and even then it is all too easy to forget the lessons learned.

For me, reflection usually involves a kind of internal dialogue. In other words, I talk to myself.
I know... it doesn't sound too good does it?
But, you know, if you don't talk to yourself, you're never going to learn much.

It's an interesting phenomenon, though. Think about it. In fact ask yourself about it!
If I am talking to myself does it mean there is more than one "me"? And if the dialogue in my head is between two parts of 'me' which part of me is it that makes the final decision between the debating parties? Maybe there's a third 'me' that adjudicates?
Confused? .... you will be...

It's because all of this 'reflecting' process goes on in my head from time to time that I actually don't find it all that difficult to hold on to the Christian doctrine that God is Three-in-One. Why should we expect the Creator of such a complex and beautiful world to be more simple than ourselves?

I think I'd better get back to my tree...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Earth, Air, Fire and Water

I took this picture in 2002 of part of the Naksan Temple complex near Sokcho in South Korea.
It was a beautiful place and a serenely spiritual place where the harmony between nature and human creativity was almost perfect.
I have to say 'was' because most of the temple complex and the surrounding forests were destroyed by fire on 4th April 2005.
Human beings are not always kind to the natural world but sometimes it seems that Nature gets its own back in the most terrifying of ways.
Apparently only 2 of the 20 or so temple buildings escaped destruction. It was a great pity- not to mention a stark reminder of the fragility of all things on this planet, including ourselves.
(picture below is from The Seoul Times)

I believe the Korean Government pledged a massive sum towards reconstruction work and, for all I know, the restoration may already have been carried out. I hope so.
I am glad, though, that I did have the privilege of seeing Naksan-sa as it was.

I am recording these reflections as the very first signs of autumn seem to be appearing around me. This is a time of year which always shouts at me to "seize the day."
Beauty is so fragile and so short-lived. It saddens me to know that so many people hardly seem to notice the beauty around them every day and won't notice it until it is gone.

"The sketching of a word on paper
or the ghost of an idea
are as fleeting as the glance of light
reflected from a rippling pool
or the wings of a butterfly
rubbed against the summer air."
from a poem entitled "Images" © Iain D. Cunningham

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Glowing in the dark

Since the last photograph had no reflection in it at all I decided to post this one of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, taken last year.

This time I don't really have anything to say about it. I think I prefer the picture to speak for itself. I like it, though, when human creativity works together with nature to produce a sense of harmony. All too often they seem to fight against each other.

I think there is something here that Christians can learn from Buddhists, but more of that at a later date.

Sermons in stones?

OK, so the latest photo doesn't show any reflections! It's just that earlier today I visited Rosslyn Chapel with some colleagues.

It's many years since I was last there and I have to say what a difference a little book can make! Now it costs you money to get in, and there are lots of other visitors. When I was last there hardly anyone had heard of the place - now they come from all over the world. I'm not sure exactly why. It would be interesting to find out, and also to find out if they find what they are looking for.

Does anybody really believe any of that stuff in the Da Vinci Code?

What is surely beyond dispute is that the chapel itself is a fascinating place and no matter how many times you visit it, you are likely to spot something you never noticed before.

How much of it was really created for the glory of God no one could ever know, but it certainly glorifies human craftsmanship and imagination and when you lift your eyes up to look at the wonderfully intricate and often witty carvings you are left marvelling at the strange beauty and liveliness of the whole place.

"If these stones could speak...." Let me tell you they do, although it's not always possible to know what they are saying or even what language they are saying it in.

All the same, if you've never been to the place, it is certainly worth a look. A long look.