Friday, May 30, 2008

The perils of public speaking and live broadcasting

There are many perils and pitfalls facing anyone who would speak in public. Most of us who do it for a living, in one context or another, will have our own cringing memories of gaffes and blunders we have made, which is probably why there is a little frisson of secret delight when someone else does it!
Perhaps the only thing worse than accidentally saying the wrong word to a 'live audience' (since speaking to a 'dead audience' doesn't count!) is broadcasting your gaffe on national radio.
I was driving home a couple of days ago and, though I tend not to listen to the radio when I am driving, I was tuned in to Radio Scotland in order to hear the news at the top of the hour. Immediately following the news and sport there is normally a traffic report.
The female announcer (whom I will not name on compassionate grounds) unfortunately stated -with all due solemnity- that, as a result of excess surface water, traffic was very slow in the Charing Cross Underpants!
I just wonder what was in her mind at the time...
No, actually, I don't.
She compounded the error by immediately noticing her mistake and trying to correct it thereby drawing it to the attention of those who had not heard it in the first place.
For, of course, the truth is that we often hear what we expect to hear, just as we often read what we expect to read.
It's just a pity that sometimes we fail to say what we expected to say...
Oh, incidentally, she meant to say Charing Cross Underpass... I think.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Late for lunch

This is where I should have had lunch on Wednesday!
Holyrood Palace, one of the Queen's official royal residences in Scotland and home to the Lord High Commissioner and his retinue during the General Assembly.
(The photograph is not mine but from T Stadler's Flickr site. You will maybe understand why in a moment.)
To set this in some context I should explain that I am very much a last-minute sort of person (at least in terms of preparing for talks, sermons, speeches, meetings etc.) but, paradoxically, I absolutely hate being late for a meeting or other event. In fact, I will often arrive far too early for an event rather than be caught out by heavier than usual traffic or by some other unforeseen delay.
So imagine my frustration on Wednesday when we were too late for lunch.
Originally we had been invited to the palace on the Sunday but I had to point out that, since I am a Parish minister, Sunday was a working day for me and I couldn’t manage.
The palace very kindly issued another invitation for the Wednesday—the last day of the Assembly.
Although not a Commissioner at the General Assembly I was due to present the report of the Nomination Committee, of which I was convener. I had, of course, prepared the report at the very last minute the night before.
In the event, some of the reports before mine provoked lengthy debate and so went beyond their allocated time. By the time I stood up to speak I was already supposed to be at Holyrood and the palace had already phoned to ask where I had got to.
So we were too late and couldn’t go the palace after all.
However, the Moderator, Rev. David Lunan and his wife, Maggie, whom we have known for many years, invited us to have lunch with them instead. And a very nice lunch it was too!
(I have been reliably informed that we probably would not have been so well fed at the palace ...but I couldn’t possibly comment.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The map re-drawn...Motherwell now in Europe!

Tomorrow night the focus of many in the footballing world will be on Manchester for the UEFA Cup Final. Though it is not my team I will certainly be a Rangers supporter for the night.
But I was celebrating another achievement on Sunday... Motherwell FC (the team I do support) qualified for a place in Europe [not that Motherwell, the town, wasn't already in Europe, you understand... but you do have to use the right jargon... come to think of it, I should have said 'Motherwell got into Europe!' followed, probably, by something like 'the boys done well.']
Actually, the 'Well did very well, considering the trauma that the club went through at the end of last year. Much of the credit for that must go to our manager, Mark McGhee, but on Saturday, at least, some of it went to local Carluke teenager, Darren Smith, who got us on the way with the opening goal.
Pity he got so carried away with his goal celebrations that he took off his shirt.

The other Albert

This is the other Albert - Albert Bogle - he certainly wasn't "born at Nexus in 2007" but he was the driving force and inspiration behind the National Gathering. Now he just has to convince the General Assembly (many of whom were probably not at the gathering) that it really was a worthwhile event.
...which it certainly was!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

You are invited to a party

One of my favourite speakers at the National Gathering at the weekend was Michele Guinness - and one of my favourite quotes out of all that she did say, as she invited us to enjoy celebrating, was this:
"Our God is a party-loving God and Jesus is a party-going Saviour."

...not that the casual visitor to some church services I've experienced would ever suspect this!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Leaving your mark

Another little picture from the weekend's "National Gathering."
There was an All-Age Worship Event on the Sunday afternoon. Lots of fun it was too, with singing, dancing, drama, and food too...
At the end of it, those who had participated were invited to leave their mark on the tarmac - using chalk. For, of course, the truth is that wherever we go in life we leave behind our mark, for better or worse, and at the same time we are constantly picking up something of what others leave behind. (That's the first principle of forensic science after all, isn't it?)
I took loads of pictures of what folk left behind of themselves in this way - messages about how much they'd enjoyed the weekend, pictures of themselves or their friends, Bible verses and sayings. I've chosen to post just one of them with the simple anonymous blessing to anyone who might pass by "Have some love!"
Is there any better gift than that to leave behind - not just on a pavement but in our everyday lives?

Every tent tells a story

One of the central features of the National Gathering was the array of around 200 "story-telling" tents.
The tents had been purchased by congregations, or groups of congregations, and were set up as mini exhibition areas through which the different congregations could share their own stories of what was happening in their part of the world. And the variety of presentations, not to mention stories, was amazing. [There was even a congregation from Argentina that had taken a tent to share their story.]
Some had gone to great lengths and exercised some real imagination to produce eye-catching displays: others relied much more on their people to simply share the story with others. The overall effect, however, was to break down barriers between individuals and groups and get folk talking to each other and making new friends.
The sharing of stories is often what creates community and binds communities together. And, what's more, the act of sharing your story with someone else can often be as much a source of encouragement as hearing the stories of others.
The tradition of community story-tellers used to be very strong in Scotland. Often these story-tellers were travelling people who would go from one village to another sharing their tales and entertaining the people and no doubt on the way gathering more material for more stories.
It's an art-form that, thankfully, is being revived by the Scottish Story-Telling Centre.
As its director, Donald Smith, points out: "In the old Scottish Traveller proverb a story should be told ‘eye to eye, mind to mind, and heart to heart'. "
There was a lot of that going on at the National Gathering, as you can see from the picture above.
I wish more preachers would realise the importance of story-telling as a way of opening up the imagination of people and getting them to think for themselves, instead of trying to tell people what to think.
After all, we have in Jesus the example of one of the best story-tellers in all human history.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Anke dje, anke be

I know! I know! I've had far too long a break from blogging... and by now I am bound to have lost all of my readers. So, no doubt I am now just talking to myself.
But - hey - I'm a preacher, I can handle that! Plenty of experience.

Talking of preachers...I've just met and also listened to the preaching of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.
Now there is someone who is surely never going to be short of listeners!

I have just returned from the Church Without Walls National Gathering in Edinburgh, and what an inspiring and refreshing experience it was. I'll say more about it in future posts, because this was one occasion when the camera was working overtime, but for the moment I just want to mention what a privilege it was to be in the hall with about 3,500 others, listening to the Archbishop delivering a message that was thoughtful and thought-provoking, careful and challenging, but also at times very moving and at times very funny.
For example...
"Are you the kind of person who, when he wakens up, says, 'Good morning, God!' or the kind that says 'Good God it's morning!'"

What I liked most about John Sentamu (and it was true not just of his preaching, but also of his one-to-one conversations) was his authenticity.
He is, quite simply, a man filled with genuine enthusiasm-and it makes him such an easy person to have a conversation with because he is truly interested in the person he is talking to. That's an example definitely worth following.

Oh... and he knows how to have fun too...

Towards the end of the worship service he got hold of a djembe and joined Jane Bentley in leading the singing with some enthusiastic drumming.

It's interesting to me that, according to the Wikipedia definition of a djembe* [and who would ever doubt Wikipedia? :-) ] the purpose of the djembe is to gather people together to hear some news or to celebrate... exactly what the National Gathering itself was all about.

* "According to the Bamana people in Mali, the name of the djembe comes directly from the saying "Anke dje, anke be" which literally translates to "everyone gather together", and defines the drum's purpose. "Dje" is the verb for "gather" in Bamanakan, and "be" translates as "everyone" in Bamanakan.