Monday, December 31, 2007
It is strange to see such violent events breaking out in places that you recognise and which at the time you visited them seemed relatively 'normal,' albeit poverty-stricken, but I suppose violence can erupt in any situation and that the outward veneer of civilisation is pretty thin no matter where you are in the world.
The saddest thing is that the current violence in Kenya seems once again to be based on tribal allegiances, artificially papered over by the processes of colonisation in previous generations.
There is a deep human need to feel that you belong to something bigger than yourself or your immediate family, but when passions run high and one tribe feels threatened by another (whatever the context) the impulse to violence seems hard to contain.
But a sense of belonging to a group need not always be something harmful.
The sense of belonging engendered by a football club is tribal in its own way and, sadly, can sometimes generate its own brand of divisive and destructive behaviour, but as recent days at Motherwell FC have shown a sense of belonging may also provide a positive source of mutual comfort in times of tragedy.
One of the greatest tragedies of all in human behaviour is when groups/tribes/nations/religions/denominations or whatever feel that they can only establish their own sense of identity in opposition to others rather than basing it on something positive.
Let's hope and pray that the violent end to 2007 may not be continued into 2008.
I wish you all a peaceful and blessed New Year.
As a Motherwell fan, I am still trying to come to terms with the sudden death on Saturday of our club captain, Phil O'Donnell. Because I was conducting a wedding I didn't get to go to the match which, before the tragedy of Phil's death, had been shaping up to be one of the best of the season. Most of the rest of my family were at the game, however, and I couldn't believe it when I received a text from one of my daughters telling me what had happened.
All the things being said about Phil O'Donnell being such a good man as well as a good footballer are true and he was truly respected at the club. We will all miss "Uncle Phil" and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Eileen and the family at this time.
Friday, December 28, 2007
You may have been wondering why a "Schmap" reference to Florence recently appeared in the sidebar of this blog. It's just vanity on my part, really, mingled with a bit of yearning for the clear blue skies of Italy in late summer.
'Schmap' (whoever they are) found the above picture of the Old Bridge in Florence (Ponte Vecchio) on my Flickr page and asked for permission to include it in their online guide to the city.
I was happy to oblige - though I would be even happier had they offered me a free trip to Florence to write an article for them about the city.
Sadly, no such offer was forthcoming, so in the meantime I will have to content myself with journeys in the memory and imagination.
However, back in the real world, yesterday I conducted a funeral: tomorrow it will be a wedding. Yesterday it was more or less dry but cloudy, cold and very windy. Today the rain is pouring down and the only word capable of describing the day is the Scots word "dreich." Tomorrow we hope for better weather- though there is a distinct possibility of snow. There's more than one way to have a white wedding, you know!
As we head towards a New Year we might well long for 'nothing but blue skies' but you can virtually guarantee that even if there are some bright and cheery days ahead there will also be some darker days.
We need something more reliable than the weather to hold on to, as the following lines suggest. (You may know them well.)
I said to the man
who stood at the gate of the year,
'Give me a light that I may tread safely
into the unknown.'
And he replied ,
'Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you
better than light
and safer than a known way!'
So I went forth
and finding the Hand of God,
trod gladly into the night .
And he led me towards the hills
and the breaking of day in the lone East.
Minnie Louise Harkins 1875-1957
Monday, December 24, 2007
How can the totally predictable take you by surprise?
I don't know - but it happens.
Every year, without fail, Christmas comes around on the 25th December. (No movable feast here.) And yet... every year (no matter how often I promise myself 'this year I will be ready on time') ...it sneaks up on me like my cat pouncing on an unsuspecting mouse.
So, once again, at the very last minute, I am putting the final touches to the Christmas Eve Watchnight Service.
Now, when am I going to get round to preparing the Christmas Day Service….? Ooops.
But, we’ll get there. We always do. Just like Christmas.
Yesterday, was our All Age Christmas Celebration. The central part of it consisted of a short follow-up to the pantomime we put on at the start of the year (Jack and the Beans Talk.) This short sequel was entitled “Zack and the Herald Angels Sing.”
It went brilliantly well—probably because I had virtually nothing at all to do with it.
Probably most of my regular readers have far too many much more important things to do than to be reading this blog before Christmas, but I just wanted to wish everyone a VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS whenever you read it.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
And the reason?...
... wait for this...
Too many people, apparently, have been trying to take pictures of the ceiling and have been falling over, or tripping on the uneven stone floor!!
So it's a Health & Safety issue!
It begs the question, should people who fall over when they look up even be allowed out of doors by themselves?
Frankly, when I heard the piece, I was beginning to wonder if it was April Fools' Day, or that I was listening to a sketch from a Monty Python Show.
But - no - you couldn't make up something like this.
Does anyone else think that 'Health & Safety' issues are sometimes taken just a bit too far?
In my opinion, most people don't look up often enough! They don't marvel at the stars, or the rising moon, or the glories of a sunset, or the flight of birds.
In these pre-Christmas shopping days it's 'heads down and keep moving' - don't pause even for a moment to look up at some of the magnificent buildings in our cities, or even to lift up your heads enough to look your fellow shoppers in the eye.
One of the things I like about the Christmas stories as you find them in the New Testament (without all the additional ingredients that over the years have grown on to the stories like barnacles on the hull of a ship) is their honesty in admitting that very, very few people actually noticed anything special about that night, or that baby. Just a handful of shepherd and a few wise men.
And what did they have in common?
Only that they were in the habit of regularly looking up at the sky.
So they were the ones who saw stars and who heard angels sing.
On that first Christmas time God looked down so that we could look up.
Lift up your heads.
Monday, December 10, 2007
This is not (repeat NOT) a member of the New Scottish Orchestra. Nor is it myself in disguise!
The amount of processing power and programming required to enable this robot to 'play the violin' is amazing, but I don't think Maxim Vengerov has anything to worry about yet: it will be a long time before robots, no matter how well programmed, will ever produce anything like real music.
Monday, December 03, 2007
The first time I visited SeaWorld in Florida was in 1975. One of the highlights of that particular theme park at the time was the performance of "Shamu the Killer Whale." (Shamu never actually killed anyone but he/she did manage to soak more than a few people; the naive and the adventurous who sat in the front rows.) I don't know how many Shamus SeaWorld will have "employed" over these last 30 or more years but as far as I know Shamu is a still a big attraction.
OK - I know... you're wondering... why the photoshopped picture of my fiddle when I'm talking about killer whales? But I'm coming to that. Eventually. And it has nothing to do with being naive or adventurous.
No... wait a minute... it has everything to do with being both naive and adventurous. But I will come to that in a moment.
Before I do, let me tell you why I thought the Shamu performance was so good. It had nothing to do with the whale, as it turns out.
When we arrived at the open air "Shamu" arena, with its gigantic whale pool, we were greeted by a SeaWorld employee who ushered us towards the seating area. Those who were already in their seats, or on the "bleachers" if you prefer, were laughing loudly and enthusiastically. We had no idea why, as the show hadn't started. In fact it was a total mystery...
.... until we had taken our seats and could look down on the next group of people to enter the area. Like ourselves they were met by the "usher" who pointed the way to the seating areas.
But this "usher" was in fact an expert mime artist who, within a few split seconds, was able to sum up something distinctive about the way that a person walked or gestured. As the 'usher' pointed out the way ahead he would step behind the unsuspecting stooges and mime hilarious caricatures of them. I tell you, he was a master.
And now to the point...
.... on Saturday I had the amazing privilege of playing with the New Scottish Orchestra for their annual Christmas Concert. It was a fantastic experience, even though the first time I saw any of the music was at the one and only rehearsal in the afternoon, and even though I had somehow been placed in the first violins, and even though most of the music was in five or six flats and even though some of the pieces had all sorts of 'impossible' runs and arpeggios in them, and ... well, let's just say, too many notes!!! (I'm only talking about myself, by the way, most of the players around me seemed to be doing fine.)
Anyway... this is where Shamu came to mind. For I found myself from time to time doing a little bit of expert miming and caricaturing, even occasionally 'playing' the violin with the bow about half an inch above the strings!! I did a passable impersonation of a violinist. Don't tell anyone now.
Seriously, though, in spite of the occasional difficulties of my sight reading, it was a marvellous evening. One of the soloists in particular had a fantastic voice, the baritone, Terence Ayebare. If he doesn't make a big name for himself in the classical music scene in the near future I will want to know why - although, to be fair, Terence Ayebare is a pretty big name already.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
We sang it to the tune of Stuart Townend's hymn "In Christ Alone." I hope he won't mind that we didn't ask his permission first, but I had to use a tune which I knew our congregation was familiar with and enjoyed singing.
Lift up your heads
Lift up your heads,Lift up your hearts
Out of the darkness will come light.
Lift up your voice in joyful praise
Sing for the breaking of the night.
In those who yearn for God’s new day
His hope will burn eternally,
for Christ will come, his light will shine
into our world in God’s own time.
Lift up your heads in patient hope.
Wait for the day when tears will end;
injustices will be no more;
hearts that are broken love will mend.
The day of truth will dawn at last;
God will transform all that is past;
for Christ will come, his light will shine
into our world in God’s own time.
Lift up your heads. Lift up your hearts.(c) 2007, Iain D. Cunningham
God’s Holy Spirit is outpoured
as he fulfils his promises
here at the table of our Lord.
He comes among us in his love,
a foretaste of the feast above.
So Christ will come. His light will shine
into our lives in God’s own time.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
But soon I will have a new role... as father-of-the-bride!
(It might yet be a dual role but that is still to be decided.)
Our eldest daughter, Linsay, is now engaged to be married.
Exciting times ahead.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Well - last week was... interesting.
Although it sounds a bit like the title of a well-known movie, I conducted three funerals, one wedding and four baptisms. Not all on the same day- thankfully.
You get occasional weeks like that, when everything seems to happen all at once. It can be quite draining, but there can be few other 'occupations' where you are privileged to come alongside people at their most joyful and most sorrowful times. As a certain 'newspaper' used to say "All human life is here."
But this is precisely how it should be since any faith that is worth holding must surely touch every area of life.
This week is already another busy one, and with three services to prepare for Sunday coming it's not likely to ease off much. But I am looking forward to a little oasis on Saturday. I can't really say it will be an oasis of relaxation, as I will be playing with the New Scottish Orchestra for the first time and I will probably be more than a little bit nervous. Details of the "gig" can be found here.
OK - it's the NSO and not the SNO - but I'm still pretty pleased to have this opportunity.
It takes me back to a time over 20 years ago when I was playing trumpet in a praise band and sitting beside a very good violinist. I remember saying to her how I had never really enjoyed playing the trumpet; it was just that this was the only instrument that my school could provide so that I could take advantage of free tuition.
"What I've always wanted to play," I said, "is the violin."
"Why don't you?" she answered.
"Well I'm a bit old to start learning now, am I not?"
And she went on to tell me the story of her aunt who had begun learning to play the violin at the age of 60 and had gone on to become a regular member of The Huddersfield Symphony Orchestra. She only gave up going onstage with them in her mid-80's because she felt she looked too old among the rest of the players.
So I made a decision there and then then that if I ever got the chance to get hold of a violin I would 'have a go.'
I was 42 years old when that opportunity came along and a friend lent me the Scottish Fiddle you see above, and I began learning to play it. I know my limitations of course and not having had any proper classical training I am never going to be invited to play in anything other than an amateur group but that doesn't matter to me. The important thing is realising that you never too old to try something new. (Although in my case I draw the line at skiing and sky-diving.)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
No, it has nothing to do with a referendum on the European Constitution!!
I'm talking about the Euro 2008 tournament in which none of the 'home nations' will now participate, since both England and Northern Ireland crashed out last night, joining Scotland in the 'also-rans' after Saturday.
Of all the British teams, however, I think Scotland has emerged as the least disappointing and the least disappointed. After all we exceeded most people's expectations and climbed steadily up the FIFA rankings. Maybe it is time our southern neighbours dropped the old saying "England Expects..." since it is usually a precursor to 'England Disappoints.'
I'm reminded of the story Jesus once told about a dinner party and how some guests pushed their way up to the best seats only to be told to get to the back of the queue while those who were a little bit more humble in their approach were actually invited up to the top table to their surprise and delight.
It's not a totally accurate analogy, however, since none of the 'home nations' even got past the bouncers on the door!
It makes the forthcoming World Cup draw pretty interesting though...
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
[Photo: inside the prisons of the Doge's Palace in Venice]
I am sure a number of people who used to regularly read this blog have now given up on it entirely. I haven't managed to write much at all in the last few weeks. My only excuse is that I have been pretty busy lately with my real job.
This week alone I have three funerals, a wedding and (on Sunday coming) four baptisms.
All the same, I do have a little something to share with anyone who might have the slightest interest.
Last Sunday was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I spent some time searching for a suitable hymn but I couldn't find anything that really fitted. So I decided to write one myself. This is it - set to the tune "Passion Chorale."
HYMN FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
We bring before you, Jesus, the ones who bear your name—
our sisters and our brothers, oppressed and put to shame.
In times of persecution, when faith is sorely tried,
give courage through the knowledge that you are by their side.
Help us to share the burden and show us how to care
through faithful interceding for all who need our prayer;
that we may stand together with all who suffer loss,
those who in faith and courage have taken up Your cross.
If we should face oppression because we are your own,
may we find strength in knowing that we are not alone;
and should we find ourselves with a bitter cross to bear,
may we find hope and comfort through someone else’s prayer.
(c) Iain D. Cunningham, 2007
Thursday, November 08, 2007
She is a strange one, our Tess!
Like most cats she has no owner, but she does have a household full of servants who will get up and open doors for her or make sure that her bowl has sufficient food in it. She is also pretty smart in other ways. We have trained her to sit on a box in the kitchen to tell us when she wants food, or wants more food. One of my daughters has decided that the next step must be to teach her to speak but I am a little bit sceptical of this possibility.
Often Tess can be incredibly affectionate, and loves nothing better than to curl up in your lap and sleep. Again like most cats, she can make herself unbelievably cute, inviting you to stroke and caress her. She purrs like the most expensive Rolls Royce.
But all of that can turn in an instant. When her eyes change colour and she takes on her 'scary look', you just better get out of the way because she is likely to want to sink her claws or teeth, or both, into any exposed flesh she can find.
Those are the times when she becomes "Psycho-Cat."
She was a rescued stray kitten whom we adopted from the local Cat and Dog Home some years ago. I reckon she was probably badly-treated and even abused as a kitten and occasionally (often for no obvious reason) she reverts to this almost feral behaviour because she suddenly feels insecure.
Fear and insecurity are often the real source of aggression - and not just in cats.
Today Tess was pretty unsettled for some reason and, as she often does, jumped up on to my desk. (This is an action which usually involves a complicated dance sequence over the computer keyboard, with typically annoying consequences.) But instead of settling down as she would normally do, among books and papers, and anything else that might be cluttering up the desk at any given time (and there is always lots of that!) she just jumped back down again.
Eventually she found a box of laser printer cartridges and managed to make an opening through which to squeeze her way inside. After a few brief, green-eyed, glances she curled up and promptly went to sleep.
I reckon the problem was that this morning there were near-gale-force winds outside and she just wanted to find somewhere safe to hide from the storm until it blew over.
I can understand that- though often the storms I want to hide from are not the meteorological ones.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
My camera has been having a bit of a rest lately - which also means I've had nothing to say on the blog for nearly two weeks!
Well, on the basis that a picture is worth a thousand words I would have had to have written an awful lot of words to make up for the lack of pictures. In fact the two real reasons for not writing much lately are
1. I've had nothing to say (I know... it hasn't stopped me before)
2. I've been pretty busy doing some real work, including three funerals in a week. (It happens like this some times)
I did have some time on Monday, however, to watch a movie on DVD - "The Painted Veil."
I really enjoyed it and would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story well told. (It's the third film version of the story by W. Somerset Maugham.)
I enjoyed it mainly because of the sumptious cinematography that captures magnificently both beauty and ugliness, but also because of excellent performances from Naomi Watts and Edward Norton (pictured above.)
One of my favourite lines in the movie, however, is delivered by Diana Rigg, playing the part of a nun. She says: "When love and duty are one, then grace is within you."
In these days when plot and action and special effects seem to be the all important ingredients there are far too few films that take the time to show character development and even transformation. But this is one of the few.
If you haven't seen it yet - take a trip to the video library. It's worth a look.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Well - no surprises last night then! Georgia 2 - Scotland 0.
I had a bad feeling about it. I kind of knew we would revert to type.
Still - all we have to do now is beat Italy....
Should be easy don't you think?
After all they are only the world champions.
Never mind - we couldn't lose out to a better country.
I'll console myself with this classic view of San Giorgio Maggiore...
Oh no - 'San Giorgio Maggiore' ...sounds like the Italian for "Isn't Georgia bigger and better?"
(OK - I know what it really means before you start correcting me.)
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The big question!!
No - not 'what is the meaning of life?' but 'Can Scotland do it tonight?'
Can we beat Georgia in the Euro qualifier?
One thing seems almost certain - if we don't make it to the finals it will only be because Scotland has an incredible knack of finding new ways to only just miss out or to fall at the last hurdle. But, maybe tonight... followed by a win or draw against Italy....
Monday, October 15, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Never mind the art galleries: every church has its Bellini, Titian or Tintoretto (usually several, in fact.) After a while it can get a bit much.
For some relief from all of this overwhelmingly religious imagery, you can call in at the late Peggy Guggenheim's house (just don't make the mistake of ordering anything in the tearoom/cafe there - it will cost you the price of a small painting, if and when it finally arrives, and it won't be worth eating anyway!! -You can see we had a bad experience there.)
It is, of course, a museum displaying some of Peggy Guggenheim's amazing collection of modern art - very different in style and subject matter from all of the Renaissance stuff...
you can find 'art' in the streets.
I'm not sure whether this object pictured above could really be considered as a work of art or simply as a political 'flyer.' It is certainly preaching an environmentalist message and it is a stark reminder to all the tourists and visitors like myself who arrive in Venice by air, that we may be leaving some rather large (size 12+) carbon footprints for the sake of a short break.
Well, it made me think.
But, will it make me change my behaviour?
Does any preaching do that?
One thing is certain: the crate above is not going to get off the ground any time soon. It is going nowhere. And that's the problem with the environmental issue too. We need to find new ways of fuelling transport because the long term answer cannot be for us all to stay in our own little corners.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Where do people get their ideas from?
I once watched two young boys in a little Greek village take an old metal container and, with nothing more than a couple of large stones, transform it into a boat which they could float on the water and play with. A toy out of almost nothing.
The picture above was snapped hurriedly last week in Venice as we passed this group of Chinese people transforming palm leaves into 'locusts' with just a few deft and well-practised twists and folds. They looked to me as if they could have made these things with their eyes closed.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
But I have a good excuse, or at least an explanation. I spent last week in one of my favourite places in all the world (outside Scotland that is) - namely Venice. It was a treat for my second youngest daughter who recently graduated and who had not, until then, ever seen Venice, or any other part of Italy.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
Usually I am summoned by an urgent cri de coeur from my wife, who loves these uninvited guests every bit as much as I love heights (if not more.) [See previous posts.]
Personally, I find these guests rather fascinating.
However, I am usually obliged to dispose of them as rapidly as possible. I usually try to do so without causing any unnecessary injury, and for this purpose I normally make use of a glass and a piece of card or strong paper.
Occasionally, though, my aim or my timing may be a little bit out, and this can result in an unintentional amputation, which is distressing for me - not to say for the victim. But most of the time I succeed in capturing the intruders alive and am able to show them the door.
I am beginning to suspect, however, that some of them simply turn around and re-enter by some other secret way. Either that, or they have very large families.
Having spiders appear in our house is nothing unusual, but lately these unwanted visitors seem to be exceptionally huge.
I just caught this one this evening.
To give you some idea of scale, the glass is 7.4cm in diameter (almost 3 inches.)
Its body was about the size of a wasp.
I think there must be an obesity problem among arachnids as well as among humans!
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
To see it, of course, required us to go up onto the roof, and for that purpose a very convenient elevator was available.
It took me back a few years.
Right back to 1974, in fact.
I was a student then. I had just completed an Arts degree and was about to begin my Theology degree. I needed a summer job, especially as my father had died the year before, but work of all kinds was in short supply that year.
In the end the only employment I could get for the summer was with a "roofing" company. (The inverted commas are necessary to indicate that this "company" was of the Western variety. i.e. they were pretty much cowboy builders!!)
Now, I think it's worth observing that since I have always been pretty scared of heights, it seemed to me to be a rather a cruel irony that this was the only job open to me for the summer. It's amazing what you'll do for a wee bit of cash, mind you.
It is also worth pointing out, to those who may not know about these things, that The Health and Safety Executive had not come into being at the time I started the job. I have no doubt that it was precisely because of the kind of work practices that I enjoyed (sorry... endured) that the HSE was invented.
Anyway, I was reminiscing about some of these experiences on Saturday evening when I was the guest speaker for our local Baptist Church's Anniversary weekend. I was asked to think of something light-hearted to talk about after the Saturday evening meal, and this is what I came up with.
I can laugh about these experiences now but I'm not sure how much I laughed about them at the time. I'm also pretty sure I was pretty much unaware at the time of just how dangerous were some of the exploits we got up to.
I'll share a few of them with you in due course.
The highest roof I had to work on was more than 100 feet above ground level. (I still don't know how I managed to do it.) It was the Bowaters paper factory near Yorkhill Quay.
I remember it was pretty sunny that week and we (the roofers) were working on the roof alongside some glaziers.
You could certainly see for miles in all directions.
"Hey, come and have a look at this!" cried someone, and we all went nearer to the roof edge to see what he had spotted. It was a couple of fire engines racing down the Great Western Road, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
Moments later we could see a few others, also converging from different directions.
"Some view you get from up here, eh?" says one guy.
"Ah wonder where they're heading for?" says another.
"Don't know, but it must be quite a big blaze when there's so many of them!"
...and then from down below, the bellowing voice:
"Get aff the roof, ya eejits! the buildin's oan fire!!"
Given that it was a paper factory, it was probably sound advice.
Some time later when we were allowed to go back up to the roof, I noticed that my jacket (which I'd left behind in the evacuation) had mysteriously 'vaporised.'
Strange that - given that the fire had never got anywhere the roof.
I always wondered if maybe some wee Glasgow glazier went home that night with a nice nearly-new jacket?
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
You don't have to believe the world was created by God to be amazed by so many of the things you see in it. (Such incredible variety and such frequent beauty.)
But you do have to be prepared sometimes to stop and take a closer look , even at the most ordinary of things.
This particular fuschia plant was in the garden at Scottish Churches House in Dunblane, but they are common enough in homes and gardens throughout Scotland. In fact, we have a huge, sprawling untidy mess of fuschia in our own garden. Together the massed flowers do make a certain impact but its when you get in close and look at each individual bloom you discover that although they are all similar, they are not identical, and each bloom is a masterpiece of asymmetrical balance and vivid colour. There are masses of them, yet they never look mass-produced. I just love Nature's extravagance in this respect.
Somehow, sneaking such a close-in look at all this variety makes me feel astonishingly rich.
PS. Remember to click on the picture to see it full size. Hope you have a good PC monitor to see it on.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Talking of contrasts... what about that Mercedes badge and the paint job above??
Saturday, September 01, 2007
That's two Friday evenings in a row I have been at Loch Lomond. How blessed is that?
But, then, there are thousands of similarly beautiful spots all around Scotland - and none of them is exactly the same two days in a row. A bit like people, I suppose.
It's the unpredictability of the natural world that makes it so fascinating to those who take the time to look carefully, and the unpredictabilityof human beings that makes relationships so challenging.
Our brains are programmed in such a way that they prefer regular patterns and routines, in order to make sense of the world around us, but there is sufficient space and flexibility in the way that we process information for us to take delight in the new or unexpected. Again, though, it requires us to stop and to notice. And when we do, we begin to make sense of the world in another way, and sense its givenness and even its Giver.
So here's another picture to stop and stare at for a few moments at the end of a day.
It was taken quite early in the morning from the window of our minibus on the road between Dunblane and Oban.
I hasten to add that on this occasion I was not the one doing the driving!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I'm always joking that if I decide to give up ministry I'd like to work as a bus driver. Well, that boast was well and truly tested today as I took our newly-arrived Korean guests (they came last night) on a wide-ranging tour of our Presbytery. Actually since the Presbytery covers over 500 square miles the trip wasn't as wide-ranging as it might have been. And, guess what? I haven't changed my mind. I had a great time, even though the bus I was driving looked like it had been shipped out of a war zone. (Maybe I'll take a picture of it later.)
The minibus belongs to a local Scout group and has obviously seen one or two jamborees in its lifetime. But it is a Mercedes and well built and, in spite of its length, it is actually pretty easy to drive and even to park - although I haven't been too challenged on that score as yet. Wait till I take it into Glasgow tomorrow.
But today, it was a chance to underline the vast difference between the home Presbytery of our visitors (East Seoul) and our Presbytery. Seoul, of course, is a vast conurbation with a population of about 20 million all crammed into a space probably about the size of Lanark Presbytery. Maybe even less. Here, on the other hand, there are more sheep than people. So it's a bit of a contrast.
In the background of the picture above is one of our older churches, St. Mary's in Biggar. This particular building dates from 1565, I think, and replaced an earlier one built in 1164. Apparently, however, there has been some sort of church on this site since the very earliest days of Christianity in Scotland, perhaps as far back as AD500 or 600. Amazing to think that Christian worship has been going on in that spot for so many hundreds of years.
History and memory are precious gifts but they can never be more important than an appreciation of the present moment, or even the anticipation of the future. Having a past is good (usually) but living in it is not. I'm happy to believe that as we establish this international relationship between a small part of rural Scotland and a small part of urban South Korea we are building something useful for the future.
In the immediate future, however, what I have to concern myself about is getting the bus through our driveway gates. There is only about one inch to spare on either side! ... now maybe I should think about a change of career...
Monday, August 27, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
So we're back in business uploading photos.
Last night, however, "Blogger" had a fault and wouldn't upload any images. The problem still hadn't been resolved this morning. So what I was going to write about will have to wait. And then... as I started to write this picture-less piece the electricity suddenly went off and the PC died instantly. (The handiwork of the plumber who is currently installing a new shower - a fault in his extension lead triggering an RCD circuit breaker. You just needed to know this, didn't you?)
Anyway, these last few days have reminded me just how much I rely on electricity and various forms of technology and how, most of the time, I just take them for granted.
Of course, my wake-up calls have been pretty benign. Spare a thought, and a prayer, for all those who have been caught in the path of Hurricane Dean and other powerful and destructive natural events in recent months.
It is all too easy for us in the developed world to imagine that we are always in control, but the reality is that this world is still sometimes a pretty hostile place. And we inhabit just one small, fragile planet suspended in an unimaginably vast universe.
Strangely enough, the knowledge of just how small and puny we really are can inspire either faith or atheism. Some look at the vastness of the cosmos and laugh at the idea of a deity who might be in the slightest bit interested in one small speck of a planet, far less individual human lives: others look at the vastness of the cosmos and are filled with awe and worship and, an admittedly illogical, sense of the nearness of the Creator of it all. I can't explain the difference.
But neither can I explain the INdifference of those who take no account at all of the world in which we live and whose 'god' turns out to be like one of the old Roman household gods - small enough to put on the mantelpiece and under our own control.
Someone once asked "Is your god too small?" and I suppose that is the question I am asking too.
It was the question that was asked in a very stark and brutal way of the Old Testament character Job. the only answer he got was in the whirlwind, but somehow that seems to me to be much more authentic than the platitudes of Job's 'comforters'.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm.
He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? ....
You should read the rest ... amazing stuff.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it means I ought to do a whole lot of writing here to catch up... but, don't worry, I won't. The poetry of the Book of Job more than makes up for the lack of pictures.