Saturday, March 29, 2008

Going nuts

As the above ad says "It doesn't take a sledgehammer to crack a nut" but that doesn't stop some people trying it. When I was young I don't remember us ever having a nut-cracker in the house. We did use a hammer (albeit a relatively small one) to crack open hazelnuts and walnuts. Hazelnuts usually did all right and most of the time you could recover them whole, or at worst - in two pieces. Walnuts, on the other hand, often ended up mashed, or as we used to say "in smithereens." Often you had to pick out little fragments from the broken shell which also sometimes meant you accidentally crunched into a little piece of broken shell at the eating stage of the process. Painful.
I was remembering all of this the other day at a meeting when it was made clear to us that new regulations governing charities which come into force on the 1st April (of course) now require churches to quote their charity number on near-enough every piece of paper they produce. Apparently even our weekly Order of Service bulletin has to carry the number. And every email too.
We have to blame Oscar for all of this heavy-handedness. No, not Oscar Wilde, nor Oscar Madison from the Odd Couple but OSCR - Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
Actually, it all stems from the actions of a charity in Scotland a few years ago that turned out to be a pretty bogus (or at best incompetently run) affair and all the regulations governing charities had to be severely tightened up. In principle, I agree with this, but sometimes you can go over the top.
It reminds me of what occasionally used to happen in school (and maybe still does) when someone in the class does something wrong but won't own up to it, so the whole class has to take the punishment.
Of course, as a law-abiding citizen, working in a church that respects civil law, we will comply in all respects. Promise!
I'll need to check, though, if there is any stipulation made about the size of the text that you must use to display your charity number. Would 2pt Arial do, I wonder?
One other consquence of the charities shake-up is that our church accounts now run to about 26 pages. A lot of fun for our church treasurer tomorrow as he tries to guide the congregation through the new style of accounts at our Annual Stated Meeting after the service.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is risen indeed!

A HAPPY EASTER to you all!

There are some stories that I never get tired of hearing and whose novelty for me never wears off. Perhaps the greatest of these is the Easter story.
Part of the endless fascination for me of the "Easter" events described in such different terms by each of the gospel writers is the sheer mystery of it all. Not even the gospel writers themselves could really say exactly what happened, because no one witnessed the resurrection itself.
That doesn't bother me. On the contrary, it comforts me. It leaves room for faith as well as wonder. It is one of those mysteries which the more you know about it, the more mysterious it becomes. The deeper you plunge into it, the deeper it seems.
I guess the word is unfathomable.
But, you know, part of the reason why no one knows exactly what happened on that "third day" is that the resurrection took place "while it was still dark." The sun hadn't even come up by the time Mary and the other women got to the tomb to find the stone rolled away.
Could that in itself be somehow significant?
Of course, Jesus seems to have had a habit of getting up before daybreak to go off into some lonely place to pray but this takes 'getting up early' to a new dimension altogether!
What I like most about this seemingly insignificant detail of the Easter narrative though is that it reminds me of a truth we find all through the Bible... the light shines IN the darkness and the darkness can't put it out, and eventually the light grows to banish the darkness itself. It's the triumph of future hope over present circumstance.
And isn't that something we all need these days?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A bit of drama and passion

I've been getting a bit of stick lately from some people who I know regularly read this blog. The trouble is... they've had nothing new to read for ages.
I guess I could make all the usual excuses about being too busy etc. and that I have spent some of the time updating our church website but although both of these things are certainly true the more important reason is that recently I've just not had anything to say.
I know... I know... it's never stopped me before.
But there are times when you just kind of dry up, or at least need a little break.
Unfortunately, this is not an option when you have to prepare a fresh sermon or two each week. You just have to get down to it and work hard. But as far as the blog is concerned, I sometimes take the easy way out and just walk away from it for a while.
Someone who didn't give up, nor take the easy way out, was Jesus.
I've really enjoyed watching the first two episodes of the BBC's latest Drama "The Passion."
I hope the next two episodes continue the high standard. I'm looking forward to it coming out on DVD too. Tonight I watched episode two with my current Discipleship Group, which seemed especially appropriate.
I'm sure there will be some critics who will point out that the writers have introduced elements that are not in the Biblical gospels but that is inevitable and necessary for telling the story with any semblance of psychological realism. Preachers do it all the time... at least if they have any imagination! The gospels themselves give only the briefest of sketches and leave lots to your imagination.
What I like about this particular production is that the characters are relatively complex, not just cardboard cut-out 'goodies' and 'baddies.' You see that each person has choices to make - Jesus, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, Joseph of Arimathea etc.- and you can sympathise with all of them because their choices are not usually between simple good and bad, but between good and the best, or between evil and a lesser evil. You can understand how difficult some of the choices are and, what's more, identify with them.
I think Joseph Mawle does a reasonably good job of portraying Jesus, although he is maybe just a bit too low key. You wonder would anyone really give up everything to follow this man? Where is the charisma and excitement?
To be fair, though, we do enter the story at some of its most solemn moments when I suspect Jesus must have been pretty heavy-hearted.
No time for light-hearted frivolity then.
I'll have to wait and see how the trial and crucifixion and most of all the resurrection are handled before I give it my unqualified approval (not that the BBC is looking for it, of course) but so far, so good. And what a refreshing change from all that so-called "reality" nonsense... to have some real drama from the Beeb! Let's have some more.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The not-so-hot seat

Well, the snow has returned and this time decided to hang around for a day or two- or at least long enough for some blue sky to appear and set it off to perfection.
We don't get blue skies all that often in Scotland but when we do, then I, for one, really appreciate them.
For some reason, summer blue skies never seem quite so intense to me as a blue sky in winter set against the white snow, or the blue sky of springtime acting as a backdrop to pink cherry blossom, or in autumn when it is a foil to the spectacular reds, golds and browns of the trees.
I passed Braidwood Loch this morning on my way to Braidwood Primary School and fortunately I had my camera in the car with me. I couldn't resist stopping for a moment to capture this particular blue sky, and that pretty cool (snow-covered) seat. Well, I certainly wasn't going to sit on it.

Mind you, perhaps it would be less uncomfortable than 'sitting in the hot seat.'
But sometimes you just don't get to choose the seat you have to sit in and you have to make do with whatever comes your way, uncomfortable or not.
So maybe dark grey cloudy skies are more common, but that just means making the most of any glimpse of blue sky that comes your way and enjoying the moment. maybe I will go over and sit on that cool seat after all...