Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Aye, right!

For the benefit of anyone who may not have visited the Livingstone Memorial in Blantyre, Scotland - this is what it looks like.
Of course as you will see, in spite of the presence of a few clouds, there is some fine blue sky. That's because it is always sunny in Scotland.
"Aye, right!"
The great thing about colloquial Scots is that it is probably the only language in the world where a double positive makes a very definite negative. "Aye Right!" is the ultimate expression of cynical disbelief and has to be spoken with just the right amount of sarcasm to get the required effect.


OK - hands up those of you who hadn't a clue what I was talking about when I said I needed a 2.5inch IDE to USB adapter ! The picture above shows what I was looking for.
Fortunately, through this very blog, one of my regular readers, who lives not a million miles from here was able to get hold of one for me. Thanks, Peter!
Good news is that I managed to access the church laptop's hard disk drive using another PC. Even better news is that none of the data was lost. Best news of all, is that I was able to repair it without any specialist software! Now the laptop is working again. Yesssss...
Of course it may only be a temporary reprieve, and so I am going to be very careful about backing up files from now on.
Nobody is stupid enough not to back up their computer files surely? Ahem...
Of course, I didn't expect this sort of disaster to happen to me...
I was just going to get round to it when...
I always meant to do it, but I never seemed to have the time... etc. etc.
I wish I could say I have learned my lesson... again...
but the trouble with many of the lessons I learn through life is that I seem to forget them again very quickly... and not just when it comes to backing up a pc.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The village of the world

Today I once again had the privilege of taking an African to visit the birthplace of David Livingstone at Blantyre. (I've been there so often in the past year or so that one of the staff asked me if I'd like a job as a volunteer tour guide!)
This time my guest was Rev. Simon Githiora Njuguna, the Director of the Youth Department of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.
He had been attending last week's General Assembly and I was asked if I would 'look after him' today as part of a programme of visits around Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was delighted to do so, and decided right away that Blantyre was the place to take him.
First of all, though, I had to 'collect him' from Abington.
I guess many exchanges (legal and otherwise) take place in motorway service stations but this was a very slick handover, timed to perfection.
Simon had been staying overnight in Dumfries at the home of another minister there, and we decided to meet each other more or less half-way at the motorway services for the handover. Poor Simon - shunted from one car to another, like a parcel in the post. (He didn't seem to mind, though.)
And he really enjoyed the visit to Blantyre.
Here he is pictured in the very room where Livingstone was born and brought up with the rest of his family.
When I see the enthusiasm and appreciation of African people for all that David Livingstone was able to do among them, and the respect in which he is still held all over Africa, I am saddened by the indifference (and even ignorance) of so many Scottish people to this courageous and committed man, whose story is quite astonishing.

As we sat and talked over a cup of tea in the cafe at the David Livingstone Centre and Simon asked me about my previous visits to Kenya it suddenly became clear to both of us that we had 'met' before. Five years ago I had spoken to a group of ministers in Nairobi. Simon was still a 'probationer' at that time - not yet ordained, but he had been sitting in the back row.
After we returned to my home, I was able to confirm it all by digging out the old photograph album from the 2002 trip to Kenya, and there he was - or at least his head-partially visible behind another minister. Well, Simon claimed that he could see himself in the picture. I had to take his word for it, and since he could remember (better than I could) what I had been talking about that day I have no reason to doubt that it was his head.
As they say... "It's a small world!" And getting smaller every day.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The bad technology weekend continues

A short sequel to the tragic tale. First of all the good news.
Accompanying my iPod on its final journey in the washing machine to Apple Heaven were my Sennheiser earphones.
Miraculously they didn't seem to mind being scrubbed up and are still working normally.
What's more they do look pretty clean.
Mind you, I don't recommend it as a standard method for removing unwanted earwax from the phones. It may be effective but I'm sure it's still pretty risky.
On a sadder (and for me hair-tearing) note... last night (or to be more precise in the early hours of this morning) the church's laptop pc gave up the ghost. Fortunately I had a few minutes of warning that something was going seriously wrong and just as the laptop breathed its last I managed to persuade it to transfer the PowerPoint for the Sunday Morning service to my MacBook...
Sadly, though, I can no longer start the thing up and I am going to have to try find someone who can lend me a 2.5inch IDE to USB adapter to try recover some of the data from the hard disk which (surprise, surprise) was not backed up.
It was just another one of those things in my HAVEN'T YET DONE list.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Here's a little useful housekeeping tip.
Even if your iPod gets dirty DO NOT PUT IT INTO THE WASHING MACHINE!!
A certain, not-to-be-named, member of my family accidentally put mine through a full wash cycle along with a duvet cover.
It has not been very well since (the iPod, that is.) In fact, it is almost certainly clinically dead, although, as one who believes in resurrection, I continue to wait in forlorn hope for a miracle.

The saddest thing of all is... it doesn't look any cleaner than before.

Easy after all

Well, some of you were absolutely spot on with your guess. It was a rose. (Sorry I zoomed in and also manipulated the colour just a little bit to make it harder to work out.)
Actually these particular roses were quite spectacular. Very large and unusual in shape as well as being beautifully scented. (Too many highly-bred roses nowadays have no scent at all.)

It's been a long week away from the blog, and a busy one at the General Assembly. I hope to pass on to you soon some of my own little observations of the week. Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to blog while I was away. Although I had my laptop with me I had no access to broadband and no way of uploading photographs, which was the original intention of this bundle of random reflections. And now with so much still to prepare for tomorrow's service, I don't have time to think of anything original to say. I just wanted my regular blog-watchers to know that I have not gone away altogether.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Super stars

Seems like we started something with our church panto.
Some of the children in P2/3 of Kirkton Primary School pestered/persuaded their class teacher to let them put on a show of their own - which they duly did this morning in the church.
And what a show it was!! The Sleeping Beauty.
It had everything. Magnificent acting performances. Wonderful costumes. A great set. Slick presentation. And, most important of all, a beautiful princess, a handsome prince and a really nasty and scary "baddie."
In fact it was an incredibly professional production... except for one little technical glitch at the very start... to do with radio mikes...
Now, who was in charge of that?
Ah well. We got it sorted eventually.
And they all lived happily ever after.

You can work it out

In light of the fact that over the next week or so I am going to have to listen to debates and hear about issues from many different standpoints and perspectives, I thought I would post another little mystery picture.
This time it is something a lot less obscure than a guitar capo. This is something you are bound to have seen before, though perhaps not exactly like this (and it may not be what it first of all seems to be.)
It is clearly something more organic than a capo, but I'm not going to give you any more clues than that. Just fire in your suggestions in a comment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Three, two one...

There are some aspects of my work that are not intellectually demanding, nor emotionally draining, nor even physically challenging (actually when I think about it very little of what I do is really any of these things, but it sounded good.) However, occasionally I get to do something which is just sheer good fun!
Today our local primary school were having a special celebration to mark their silver anniversary - a balloon release!! Yess!
Perhaps they should have held off until tomorrow for the theologically appropriate 'Ascension Day.'
On second thoughts, though, I don't think the kids would have lasted any longer. They were much too excited about the whole thing. There is nothing quite like a couple of hundred youngsters feeding each other's excitement and anticipation to near chaos level. I was beginning to think the balloons wouldn't even need helium to get them airborne: the children themselves were as high as kites.
The adults, of course, were suitably restrained and dignified. (I may, however, have some photographic evidence to disprove that last statement.)
I had the chance to release a balloon myself, but a much greater honour and privilege was afforded me. I got to do the countdown. [The real (and only) reason, of course, is that I have the loudest voice.]
And so after a dramatic count of 3 - 2 - 1 ... the order was given to "GO!" and 350 green and silver balloons (minus the ones that had already gotten away) soared up into the drizzly, grey sky helped along by an explosion of pure innocent joy on the part of the children.

I remember away back in 1975 witnessing my first ever rocket launch at Cape Canaveral.
Unfortunately we had missed the launch of the very last Saturn V (the Apollo/Soyuz mission) by a mere two days, but we did get the chance to see the Viking mission to Mars being launched on a military 'Titan' rocket.
Like some gigantic firework display it was briefly spectacular but it was the countdown that got to me most. As I watched the launch-pad through the viewfinder of my camera, I listened to the countdown on the radio and I could feel my pulse quicken as the numbers got smaller and the moment got nearer.
What is it about a countdown that gets some folk so excited?
Is anticipation of the future a peculiarly human phenomenon?
In a desire to find out, I 'googled' the phrase "science of anticipation" only to discover that there is indeed research being done on this very subject. Indeed, it seems to be the way ahead (or so I anticipate.)

Talking of countdowns, in a few days' time our General Assembly will convene in Edinburgh and as I will be a commissioner this year I may not have the opportunity to do much blogging - but we'll see. (You can follow the link above to the live webcast of proceedings)
Would it be wrong (or just cynical) to suggest that next week I might anticipate... a few balloons... lots of hot-air... and one or two things ending 'up in the air'?

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Space Age

Welcome to the Space Age!
I was expecting a parcel this morning. And it arrived. Although, I have to say I wasn't expecting it just to be left on the doorstep by the postie who didn't even ring the bell (but that's another complaint.)
My real complaint was the size of the package because I knew what was inside.
Now it's a long time since I did any maths or had any use for a calculator, but I decided to do some not-so-quick calculations and I reckoned that approximately 99.0541% of the package was either other packaging or empty space. (I've spared you the extra 25 decimal places that the calculator came up with.)
Now that is a lot of empty space!
As I said - welcome to the space age!
The whole question of excess (and often unnecessary) packaging is a big one from an environmental point of view and it's time we got a grip of it. As consumers we surely ought to start demanding less wasteful packaging.
But... it occurred to me even as I thought these thoughts that the Universe itself has an awful lot of 'empty space' in it. Even the most 'solid' of solid objects, it seems, is mostly empty space. And it's true right down to sub-atomic level.
In fact, when you begin to contemplate it, the whole thing is really quite mind-boggling. Then again, my mind is probably quite easily boggled... 'cause it too has lots of empty space inside.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Left Behind

Today in the UK...some will be sad, others will be celebrating, and others still will be sublimely indifferent to it all...
To what?
To the announcement today by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that he is resigning from the leadership of the Labour Party and will cease to be Prime Minister on 27th June.
It's the worst kept secret since the Spanish Armada, and the longest goodbye since Frank Sinatra's.
As to my reaction? I am not going to tell you into which of the above categories above I fall, but all the talk on the news bulletins today has been about Tony Blair's "legacy" - what he will be leaving behind when he leaves office, and how his premiership will be remembered.
Who knows?
Time alone will tell. Although it is never likely to tell all.
One thing is certain, every one of us leaves some sort of legacy, in the sense that we all make some sort of mark on the world and on the lives of others, for good or bad (most likely both.)
It is the first principle of forensic science that 'every contact leaves a trace.' And it is certainly true of every human life, however insignificant we may seem.
Jesus asked, or rather told, his disciples to be like salt and light.
Both were, and are, essentially positive, although salt rubbed into a wound can sting and too bright a light can be very uncomfortable, especially when we have become used to the dark.
So, maybe sometimes the followers of Jesus are called upon to make some people feel uncomfortable some of the time, but for the most part our responsibility is to bring flavour and health, illumination and hope to the world in which we are placed and in which we move.
...not easy though.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Watch out for alligators

(a palm photographed in Cocoa, Florida, 2003)

Scotland is getting more like Florida every day! It's true.
OK. Our hills are a tad bigger. Our roads are a lot narrower and not nearly so straight.
But the differences are not so great as they once were.
Let me tell you why.
Last week I had a rare game of golf. By 'rare' I am referring not to the quality of golf played but to the fact that it is probably two years since I had last played a full round. Looking at my scorecard, however, it could be argued that it was rare in another sense - like a steak - kind of 'bloody' in the middle. I took a 9 at both the eighth and ninth holes!! Fortunately, they were by far the worst and I managed to pull it together again for the inward nine. Nevertheless, I am not going to tell you my total score.
Anyway, to get back to the point.... if there is one.
The sky was a bright, unclouded blue. The sun was shining warm and bright. There was hardly a breath of wind. A fellow golfer passing me on the fairway between holes remarked: "This is better than Florida! No alligators here."
"No, not yet," I replied "but give it time."
Was the unusually warm weather a consequence of global warming? Perhaps.
Of course, we are more like Florida now for another reason.
Forget your 'hanging chads' - we had about 140,000 spoiled ballot papers in the elections to the Scottish Parliament etc. last week.
And now we have legal challenges, the likelihood of a hung parliament, no one willing to serve as presiding officer (because every vote is precious) etc... etc...
Whatever you can do, Florida, we can do better - at least as far as incompetence is concerned.
There are even some who are arguing that it was all a conspiracy to squeeze out the smaller parties.
But, c'mon, a conspiracy would require organisation, intelligence, clever strategies and a clear outcome. No - I am sure it was more cock-up than conspiracy.
There is, of course, a great appetite for conspiracy theories - whether it has to do with the assassination of JFK, the landings on the moon, aliens, 9/11, Iraq, or whatever.
I think this is probably due to our human need to find explanations for everything and our unwillingness to accept the plain fact that people make mistakes, and do things that are wrong, and sometimes these mistakes can be very big and can have huge consequences.
I'm not one who reaches quickly for the conspiracy theory when things go wrong.
I think it is partly due to my Christian faith, which teaches me that some things cannot be explained this side of eternity but one thing which is certain is the fallibility of human beings, including myself.
And so, yes, in the end I may be mistaken about Scotland becoming more like Florida, but all the same, I think we should watch out for alligators.

Monday, May 07, 2007


By special request (and with apologies to those of my readers who already know all of this, and may well be fed up hearing me talk about it) I thought I'd say a bit about some of the projects in Kenya that our church is involved in.
The first of these is a congregational partnership between ourselves and PCEA Kiambaa.
The partnership began a number of years ago when Rev. Dr. David Githii (then minister at the new, but growing, Kiambaa Church) visited Scotland and, after meeting one of our elders, came to Kirkton.
Some time afterwards, as part of a Study Leave Project I was undertaking, I visited Kiambaa with one of our elders, and we agreed to develop the relationship between our two congregations.
On that first visit we saw the very impressive building pictured here (now known as the Lankia building) which had been erected at Kiambaa thanks to the generosity of First Presbyterian Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At that time (2002) it was virtually an empty shell.
It now houses, among other things, a clinic, lab, library, kindergarten and a computer training centre (more of which at a later date.)
However, the real focus of our partnership has always been the relationship between the members of the two congregations.
The various projects that we have undertaken (though not of the same scale as the Lankia building itself) have always been intended to develop the friendship between our two congregations.
The first of these projects was to pay for electric lights to be installed in the church.
Another project was to contribute towards the drilling of a borehole (although several years later there still seems to be a dispute between the church and the local authority as to who has the rights to the water in the well.)
More recently (in 2005) we installed about a dozen second-hand computers. (Of course, this also included installing all the electrical sockets etc. to run them.)
It may seem strange to take computers to a community which as yet does not have running water, and where few houses have electricity, but there were good reasons for it. If the economy of a country like Kenya is to catch up in any way with the rest of the world and compete in the global market it is not likely to do so through industrialisation, but it might do so through information and communication technology. More immediately, the individual people from Kiambaa who learn even basic computer skills are much more likely to find employment.

(installation of computers at Kiambaa almost complete)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Presbyterian Bishop

Do you ever find yourself wondering where the days disappeared to? This last week must have been a pretty busy one because I haven't had any time to blog at all. (Well, that's my excuse at least.)
I promised that I would tell you a bit about a very interesting person I met last Thursday but somehow I never quite got round to it until now.
Unfortunately I didn't take my camera with me to the meeting in question so I have had to post here a picture taken by someone else. (I hope he doesn't mind.)
The man in the photograph is Rev. Elias Taban, a bishop in the Sudanese Presbyterian Church, President of the Sudan Evangelical Alliance, and a personal friend of the President of Sudan. For someone like me in the Church of Scotland, where the very idea of "bishops in the kirk" is anathema to most folk, it was especially interesting to meet a Presbyterian bishop!
But the man himself was much more fascinating and inspiring than his official title.
Here's what he has said elsewhere about himself:

"My name is Bishop Elias Taban. I was born in the southern Sudanese town of Yei in May of 1955. Two hours after I was born over 50 men from the Yei police station were paraded disarmed and gunned down by the order of a northern Sudanese police officer. My mother had to wrap me in a blanket, and we escaped to the bush, where I was hidden for three days. At age 13 I was a child soldier in the first Sudanese liberation movement known as Anyanya. In 1978 I accepted Christ when a team of evangelists from Kenya came to Juba, Sudan.
I received a Diploma in Civil Engineering. I also have an advanced Diploma in Theology. I speak five languages: English, Lingala, Arabic, Bari, and Swahili. In 1990 I founded the Presbyterian Church in my province. In 2003 our churches formed a new denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). I am currently the National Bishop of EPC. In 2003 I was voted President of SEA, the Sudan Evangelical Alliance. I will be President of SEA until April, 2007. I have also served as chairman of the Yei, Sudan Pastors Association. I am married with four adopted children who had been orphans. My wife supports me in my ministry. She is a trained theologian holding a Diploma in Theology. She heads the largest women’s church organization in the area known as the Christian Women’s Empowerment Program. My wife was previously a 1st Lieutenant in the current liberation movement of the SPLA/M. The SPLA/M leadership has released her to full time ministry with me."

The invitation to meet Bishop Taban had come from a small aid organisation called MAI (Medic-Assist International) and I felt privileged to be one of the four invited guests who had the opportunity to hear Elias tell us his story first-hand.
Part of the reason for his visit to the UK was to gather support (financial and otherwise) to develop a project established in South Sudan by Medic-Assist International and WorldShare to build, equip and run a Health Centre at Goli and clinics at Morobo and Kaguada. The health centre itself has already been built but requires to be properly equipped and staffed. (It was difficult to take in and comprehend some of the statistics that I learned during that meeting - such as the fact that in Southern Sudan there is one doctor for every 100,000 people!! or that 84% of pregnant women have absolutely no access to ante-natal care.)
As the health-centre/maternity clinic becomes fully operational it will require not only medical equipment but also trained staff. The organisers are hoping that this might include some short-term volunteer doctors, nurses etc. from this country. Having seen similar programmes operating in Kenya, it seems to me to be a very worthwhile idea.
One of the other people at the meeting actually volunteered his own services to go to Sudan to give training in basic dentistry to health workers there. Unfortunately I couldn't offer anything remotely like this. My only experience of anything like pulling teeth is preaching :-)
Also, since our congregation is already committed to supporting a number of projects in Kenya, there may be little that we can do to assist this worthwhile project in Sudan, but over the next few weeks I'll be giving some thought to it to see if there may be some way of being involved.
I'll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, you might want to check out a couple of videos that have been posted online about the work that Elias Taban and others are doing in Sudan.