Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Way to go...

and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year.

There's nothing like having clear directions. And, as you will see, today's photograph shows nothing like clear directions.

One of the things I like about Venice is how easy it is to get lost in it. It was 'designed' this way to confuse intruders and strangers.
The photograph is not from Venice, of course. It is from Carluke. Obviously during this festive period we don't want any intruders or strangers to venture in so we have designed a cunning system of diversions which take people in ever increasing circles around the town until they have no idea where they are, or whether they should turn right or left. If you look closely at the photograph, you will perhaps see some evidence that one driver at least couldn't make up his mind until it was too late!
Seriously, though, it was my privilege and pleasure to welcome a number of strangers to our Christmas Eve watchnight service this year at Kirkton Church. I hope that none of them felt like strangers but that, instead, they felt they were among friends.

Here is a rather long verse I wrote many years ago. It's not great, or even good, poetry, I know, more like a verse from some cheesy Christmas card, but it does make a point of sorts.
Finding directions for life is not always an easy thing, especially for those who are not content to take everything at face value. But if you don't give up, and you don't take too many diversions down too many dead ends, you might just get there in the end....


Shepherds on the hillside were the first to hear the news
Of the baby who was born to be 'King of the Jews".
“You'll find him in a stable,” the shepherds were told,
“Wrapped in bands of cloth against the winter's cold.”

The shepherds' search was an easy one
For Bethlehem was their own home town.
Though a 'King in a stable' sounded absurd,
They soon discovered it was just as they'd heard.

With wonder and joy they knelt to the ground
And silently worshipped the King they had found.
They knew that the child in the feeding stall
Was the Promised Messiah, the Saviour of all.

Yet long before the shepherds heard the baby's cry,
Scholars in the East had been studying the sky.
The journey facing them would be a difficult test
But they prepared themselves for their special quest.

They made out a list of all they would need:
Money and clothing, and water and food.
To the list they added gold, myrrh and frankincense–
Precious gifts for a new-born prince.

For many months, and in all kinds of weather
The Wise Men carried on their search together,
Following a star that had told them the news
That a baby would be born as "King of the Jews".

At last to the country of Judea they came
And made their way to Jerusalem.
To the Palace of Herod the Wise Men were bound:
For where else but in a palace should a king be found?

When Herod the King heard of their arrival
He was jealous and afraid; for he wanted no rival.
"I AM THE KINGI No-one else!" he said.
"I must search for that child." (Herod wanted him dead.)

To the throne came the Wise Men as Herod commanded:
“Now where is this ‘King’ to be born?” he demanded.
“In the village of Bethlehem” they replied,
“For so, we believe, it was prophesied.”

“We have seen his Star from our home in the East,
And so we set out on our difficult quest.”
“Carry on with your quest; search far and wide,
For I want to …. Worship him too.” Herod lied.

Suspicious of Herod, the Wise men went on,
Deciding together they would not return;
They wouldn’t help Herod to search for the child
For they knew Herod really wanted him killed.

But the light of the Star was shining again,
And hope burned in the hearts of these truly wise men.
They followed the light till it came to rest,
Then they knew they had reached the end of their quest.

Here was the new-born King they had sought.
They bowed and offered the gifts they had brought:
Precious gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh–
Though the love in their hearts was more precious by far.

There are many roads to the Child who is King,
And many gifts that a person may bring.
To the shepherds the stable was close at hand;
To the Wise Men the child was in a foreign land.

But whether the QUEST be long or short,
Only he who has love and truth in his heart
Will have something of worth that he may bring
At his journey's end to the child who is King.

© lain D. Cunningham

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Sorrows

What for some may be a time of joy and family reunion, is often, for others, a time of desperate sadness and separation.
It is the privilege of ministry to meet people at every point between celebration and despair.

One of the saddest things I've ever had to do during a Christmas season was to conduct a service for the burial of a stillborn baby. There are no easy answers or quick comforting words that can be offered at times like these. Often silence is the only honest response. But even the silence sometimes has to be articulated later and I did this some months after the event in the following short poem. It is offered to everyone for whom Christmas is a hard and painful time.

Stillborn at Christmas

Cold was the day.
Bitter and cold were our hearts.
The sun shone, clear and bright
but, strangely, without warmth.
we felt forsaken by the Universe,
a gathered knot,
around the loose-ends of the little life
we never knew.

And we buried
the dreams and hopes
that had unravelled.

The flesh became a word
that would not dwell among us.
and I, the spinner of words,
had nothing left to say.

(c) Iain D. Cunningham

Shop till you drop

Where have I been these last couple of weeks? you might ask - if anyone ever reads this blog, that is.*

Well, you can be sure of one thing I have not been indulging in the nation's favourite pastime - shopping - even though it is now getting very near to Christmas. Nor have I recently been where this photograph was taken (Mong Kok in Hong Kong) which is a pity, because Hong Kong is a fantastic place. I say this even though shopping is undoubtedly the top pastime in Hong Kong and it is probably one of my pet hates. (With the possible exceptions of buying CD's and books.) Oh... and the imminent possibility of purchasing a new camera! That I will enjoy, although I know already exactly what camera I want to buy, so it won't take long.

To be honest I just don't know where shoppers get the stamina from. I've found it easier to walk the West Highland Way than to walk down Sauchiehall Street on a late December day. (In fact, to be even more honest, it's a long while since I did either!) NO - shopping is just not my thing. Any shopping I do now is usually done online. Your feet don't get so sore for one thing.
I am, however, really looking forward to Christmas because the family will all be together again.
Of course, I will be working on Christmas Eve (a Sunday) even doing a bit of the night shift with our midnight service and I'll be working on Christmas Day. But I wouldn't miss it for anything - not even flying off to the sun (or more likely sitting in a tent in a fog-bound Heathrow Airport. Ouch! poor folk.)

Anyway... back to Christmas. "This'll be your busy time!" is the comment I hear more than any other during the run up to Christmas. You can almost hear the implied observation that for the rest of the year you don't really do very much anyway. I'm not sure it is much busier for me than many other times of the year: it's just that people see me at all sorts of events. Tomorrow morning I will be at my fourth school Christmas service!
(Actually, it is only my third. I had a clash of dates for one of them and had the brilliant idea of making a short video to be played in the service through the multimedia system, an upbeat message, wishing everyone a really Happy Christmas. Unfortunately the school's laptop wasn't quite up to it and struggled to do both video and audio at the same time. Apparently my contribution was more like the Rev. I. M. Jolly, when the sound slowed down and went out of sync with the pictures.

A colleague who was present at the service because her daughter is a pupil in the school very kindly and thoughtfully wrote this to me the next day: "Just a quick note to thank you for giving me the best laugh I’ve had in ages – tears were rolling down my cheeks – you may already have heard. Not sure what was up with the sound on your message today – but I did make comment that you could audition for the next IM Jolly!
As you well know I am not highly PC literate so I am afraid we all just enjoyed the moment – or rather minutes. It certainly made the end of our service today highly memorable. Eilidh was there with another 2 from VP – and she has talked about your funny voice every since she came home – wondering if you were better now – if you still have funny voice – so I have tried to reassure her that it was your tape recorder not you that was a bit sick and next time she sees you in her school you will be fine!!!"

Well, isn't that what we are supposed to do? Cheer one another up?
What I'm not looking forward to, however, is my next visit to the school.
(I think I'd rather go shopping!!)

*Don't forget to add your comments if you do read this.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's the timing

At the beginning of the week I was at the Macdonald Highland Hotel in Aviemore for an overnight conference as part of a series of events which are to do with "Church Without Walls"
It came at just the right time to bring encouragement to a number of people, about 160 of us... although as I drove 150 miles each way through gale force winds and driving rain, it didn't seem much like the right time of year to have a conference in the highlands.
I took my camera but never ventured outside to use it. There wasn't much time to do so anyway as I was heavily involved in the music. So, no pictures of Aviemore, but instead a picture from a much sunnier and much warmer, Hong Kong. The picture was taken in a park in HK in 2005.
I thought it was a very witty way of making a point, as well as a pretty clever piece of landscape gardening.

Being 'Green' is very fashionable these days, of course... and not before time, if we want to save the planet!
Anyway, I remembered the photograph in the middle of this week.
On Wednesday, as most people will know, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, delivered his latest (most people think his last) Pre Budget Report. Then, as tradition dictates, his opposite number, George Osborne, gave his response. In doing so he made what could (and should) have been quite a funny joke about Gordon Brown trying to appear 'green.'
"People say that he has only become green recently. I think that's most unfair. He's been green ever since that meal at Granita's. The Prime Minister remembers it. Mind you, and I know the Prime Minister doesn't live in Islington anymore, it says something about the state of the Labour Party that Granita has just changed its name. It's now called: Desperados."
Full marks to the speechwriter. Very clever.
But, sadly, it didn't get much of a laugh... because of the way it was delivered.
"It's the way you tell 'em!"
But, it's true, isn't it?
So much of comedy is about timing and delivery not just the joke itself.
I think God has a great sense of humour. He must have to put up with us all the time.
But, then, he also has a perfect sense of timing.
"When the right time finally came, God sent his own son..." [Galatians 4:4]

But don't forget either what Mike Scott once wrote in a song:
"Well, if you want to give God a laugh- tell him your plans" [Long Way to the Light]