Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Four wheels on my wagon...

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


I think I have just about recovered from the "Nexus Experience." I'm not sure what that phrase might mean to those who attended the exhibition, the seminars, the children's 'praise party' or the evening worship, but for those of us on the organising side, it meant being on your feet for a very long time, over several days (which is not something that my dodgy back enjoys too much.) And, of course, by the end of the week "the Nexus Experience" = Near Exhaustion.
First prize for endurance has to go to Bryan Kerr, the Project Manager, but I reckon all the team deserve a rest, although I know none of us will get much.
My particular responsibility was for the closing Worship Event on Saturday evening. I think it went pretty well on the whole, even though the first time that the band got to play together was at the soundcheck. (I hope that wasn't too obvious.) Extra thanks to Dave the Trumpet (as opposed to Dave the Drummer, or Dave the Singer... bit short on variety of names I'm afraid. Same goes for Mo the Sax) for stepping in at very short notice and playing so well.
We were especially pleased and privileged to have Pete Greig as our speaker. If you haven't yet read his book "God on Mute" then you ought to do so. It raises many of the questions that most people of faith end up wrestling with at some point in our lives. Thankfully, though, Pete doesn't give any facile or superficial answers. He shows, nevertheless, that it is possible to realistic without being cynical and positive without being superficial.
On the question of the silence of God, it was interesting to read in Time magazine this week about the letters which Mother Teresa wrote over a period of 50 years in which she privately confessed her spiritual struggles and, in particular, how, for very long periods, she never sensed the presence of God in her life. It makes her faithfulness in service all the more remarkable. Most of the truly special (holy) people in Christian history have gone through what the mystics called "the dark night of the soul" but for Mother Teresa it seems to have been a very long night indeed. I had known before of Mother Teresa's private doubts, but the Time article provided many quotes I had not previously seen.
It confirms for me what I have often suspected - that those who constantly express absolute dogmatic certainty on matters of faith are either very superficial or simply dishonest. Life on this earth is never that simple.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

By yon bonnie banks

Once again, not much time to blog recently. The last three days have been taken up with Nexus Scotland, a Christian-Muslim wedding, and preparing for our nine Korean visitors who will arrive tomorrow afternoon for a 2-week exchange visit.
However, I just thought I would share with you one of the nearly 400 pictures I took during Nexus.
No - I haven't uploaded the wrong picture!
It was decided to invite exhibitors to come and enjoy a short visit to Loch Lomond, which included a meal on the Maid of the Loch (a paddle-steamer no longer in active service but used as a very excellent eating place) a brief sail up part of the loch, and then some entertainment back on the Maid before returning back to their hotels. This was the view as we returned from the sail just after sunset. Magnificent!
After a long and tiring day in an exhibition hall there is something truly refreshing and restful about the sight of the sun setting across a loch. But what was just as refreshing was the opportunity the exhibitors and organisers had of just getting to spend time with each other chatting and getting to know each other around a table.
It's no wonder Jesus spent so much time just eating and drinking with his followers. He knew the importance of relationships and how they are formed, established and deepened. Shared meals can be a very important element in that process, no matter what kind of relationship is involved.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Look... a picture!

So we're back in business uploading photos.

There was a pretty gruesome story in the newspapers here a few days ago about a swan that had been discovered with a crossbow bolt embedded in its wing. Clearly someone with a warped mind had been using it for target practice.
I am happy to say, however, that the swan above was shot with nothing more than a camera. What attracted me to the scene wasn't just the swan itself, although invariably they are such majestic and graceful creatures, at least when fully grown (cygnets can look a bit comical.) No, what caught my eye was the water and the brightly coloured reflections. (Make sure you click on the picture to see it full size)
I could make this another "guess what it is a picture of..." competition, but instead I'll just tell you- it was a multi-coloured canal barge. An interesting subject in its own right, perhaps, but to me even more interesting 'on reflection.'
I can't remember who it was who first said "the camera always lies" but it is true. Photographs are only ever one way of looking at something: they are never 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth', and that is the case even before you use Photoshop to 'doctor' them. (Incidentally, the above photograph has not been 'doctored' at all.)
By the way, if you follow the link to the Evening Times newspaper article, have a look at the author of the piece. I did a bit of a mental double-take at first, because I thought her name was Sarah Swan!

Look no picture...

When I first started writing this blog I was determined never to upload a post that did not have a picture with it. After all, it was my enjoyment of photography and of words that first led me to experiment with this medium.
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.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Here today.. gone in an instant

Where have I been these last few weeks?
I wish I could say that I have been visiting exotic locations, soaking up the sun, enjoying extended leisure time etc. etc. but unfortunately that is not the case. My absence from the 'blogosphere' is the result of a number of much less enjoyable experiences conspiring together. First of all there was the back injury while on holiday which meant sitting at a computer was not an attractive proposition for me. Then on returning to work I became extremely busy with a couple of 'out of the ordinary' ventures being planned - Nexus (which you can read about here) and the forthcoming visit of nine people from South Korea to Scotland to establish a 'Presbytery partnership' (and I am responsible for organising the 10-day visit.) And, just in case these events proved too stress-free... last week my computer network had a catastrophic failure. And I mean catastrophic. :-(
(I'd rather not talk about it too much , if you don't mind, except to say that - although I thought my system had been routinely making automatic backups I am now minus just about every bit of data that I created in the last 18 months!! ouch! )
The picture above is of an extremely well-preserved Roman mosaic in the museum at Verulamium (St. Alban's) in Hertfordshire, a place we visited while on holiday. It's a neat irony, though also a slightly painful one for me, to realise that this mosaic is nearly as fresh and complete now as it was when it was made in 150AD while my computer data (i.e. a lot of my work) managed to evaporate in a fraction of a second never to be seen again. Oh, I know you can go in for all sorts of expensive data recovery procedures (I've done it in the past) but the simple truth of the matter is that, however inconvenient to me, nothing that I have lost will really be missed by anyone other than me. Ah well. C'est la vie.
But enough complaining. I thought that I'd better get round to 'blogging' something before my most loyal readers (both of you) stopped visiting the blog altogether.
Actually, it amazes me that since I started this series of assorted ramblings and musings nearly a year ago, I've had (apparently) something like 11,800 'visits' - not exactly massive by internet standards, but surprising to me.
I'm only sorry that a lot of the time I haven't had anything interesting to say. (Of course, being a preacher...that has never got in the way of me saying it anyway.)
Keep visiting, though... one of these days it may be worth it.