Saturday, September 27, 2008

Life is full of little mysteries

Yes, I know I've been a little bit lazy with the blog of late. It's so easy to get out of the routine/habit, and when you stop blogging, for whatever reason, it's not long before the blank screen starts to intimidate you and you just can't think what on earth to write about.
Part of my problem is that I started out this blog determined to use photographs I had taken myself as a starting point for some 'random reflections' but recently my camera hasn't seen the light of day except at weddings I have recently conducted. (I usually take a picture of the happy couple for our church magazine.) Although there have been quite a few weddings lately, I don't this is the place for wedding photographs.
As a little aside, however, I was amused (even a bit flattered) when the manager of one of our more popular local wedding venues offered me a job as a 'toastmaster'!
Needless to say it was an offer I could not accept. [For one thing I already miss too many Motherwell home games with weddings on Saturdays. And, perhaps much more importantly, I don't think I'm allowed to take on a second job... of any kind... even if I had the time.)
Anyway, back to the point- you may be wondering what on earth this particular picture is about.
If you are... that's good.
For that is precisely why I have put it here.
I thought it was time for another mystery picture.
Only this one is probably a slightly easier one to guess than the last one.
Talking of Motherwell home games, at long last today we got a home win. Not a particularly convincing one but a welcome one all the same, especially as the home leg of our UEFA cup tie is on Thursday night.
The winning goal today was scored, rather unexpectedly, by the midfielder Bob Malcolm. It would be good to think of it as a sweet first-time volley but in reality the ball just kind of bounced off his thigh and trundled over the line. The first reaction of most of the supporters around me this afternoon was to burst out laughing! although celebrations did follow when we realised that the unthinkable had actually happened.
Life is full of surprises and little mysteries is it not?
Tomorrow, however, I will be attempting to reflect on the truly unfathomable mystery of the Trinity - just the thing for a holiday weekend, don't you think?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Yesterday I was in Dundee representing Lanark Presbytery at the Church of Scotland's Church & Society Council Conference. It meant I was unable to watch my team (Motherwell FC) being thrashed 4 -2 by Celtic. Maybe I didn't miss much there.
But even apart from that I was glad that I did get the opportunity to take part in that particular conference, especially because the keynote speaker was Dr. Denis Alexander, a distinguished biochemist and Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge. His presentation, entitled 'Transcending Dawkins' God: renewing the positive interface between science and faith,' was informative, intelligent, interesting and inspiring.
I was delighted to get the chance to have a substantial conversation with him afterwards. Later, I also couldn't resist buying a couple of his books. (All I need now is some time to read them.)
There's no way I could summarise in a couple of paragraphs here Dr. Alexander's carefully argued and convincing presentation which showed there is no necessary conflict between science and faith but I can't resist sharing one little anecdote from his talk concerning Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion."
Apparently one of the scientists who is on Dr. Alexander's team in his Cambridge Lab was a confirmed atheist ... until, as a result of reading Dawkins' book, the atheistic scientist was converted to the Christian faith!
Now don't tell me God doesn't have a sense of humour!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Social Networking

The world's largest particle physics laboratory, CERN, has been in the news lately and by now most people will probably know that it was here in 1989 that the Internet or World Wide Web first came into existence. A neat irony that! In order to break up atoms, it was necessary to bring scientific minds together by inventing a brand new means of communication.
I don't suppose Tim Berners-Lee and the others who first set up the original 'internet' ever dreamt that it would become the sprawling giant that it now is.
There have, of course, been some downsides to the whole project because any tool that human beings create can be used to harm as well as to help but overall it has been an amazing force for transcending borders and boundaries and opening up the field of knowledge to people all over the world.
And, what's more, it has been very useful for enabling people to keep in touch with one another all around the world, or even to help create new relationships altogether.

In the last few days, I've had a couple of interesting personal examples of this.

First of all, through Facebook, I received a message from a young man who had once been in our youth fellowship in Duntocher, over 20 years ago. Inevitably we had lost touch and I had no idea where he was or what he was doing.
Now, thanks to the internet, he has got in touch with me and I discover he (and his family) are in Canada and involved in a Presbyterian Church there.
What moved me most, however, was the little postscript he added at the end of his email:
"PS. You'll never know just how close I came to chucking in the shipyard for the cloth! You inspired us all!"

And then, just today, I received an email from Australia with the subject-heading "Do I know you."
Apparently the sender had (through Google) randomly stumbled upon this blog and my name rang a bell.
So he wrote:
"Are you possibly the Iain Cunningham I knew in the late 60's, early 70's from East Kilbride who attended Hamilton Acadmey at the same time as I did. The comments and tone of the entries on the blog are very reminiscent of the young lad I remember although the photo does him no justice at all."
What did he mean?? I haven't changed a bit! ...Have I?
To both Dougie and Wullie I'd like to say - if you are still reading this blog - thanks for getting in touch!
And to Tim Berners-Lee (and everyone at CERN) - thanks for making it possible!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Black Hole

Well the LHC at CERN (don't you love acronyms!!) has been switched on... and so far, so good...
We have not all disappeared down a black hole... yet... though some pessimists believe it is still a real possibility.
However, if anyone is interested... I KNOW what happens when you disappear into a black hole.
(So does anyone else who has ever been inside my study! )
And, although it may seem to flout the laws of physics and everything else, I can report that from time to time it is possible to get back out of it and into the real world again. I do it all the time.
In the international footballing scene Scotland seemed to dig themselves into a bit of a black hole in Macedonia but tonight they dug themselves back out of it with a gritty 2 -1 victory over Iceland. (I think that might be a local supermarket team, but I'm not sure.) Even here, though, they peered over the edge of the "event horizon" when the team captain got sent off and they had to hang on desperately for the last ten minutes or so.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about just now, you either haven't been watching the news or you couldn't care less about football, or both.
By the way, I'm sorry I wasn't able to upload a picture to go with this post. I tried to take some photographs of black holes but I couldn't get them in focus. :-)

Friday, September 05, 2008

A recovering chaplain

I've just spent a very interesting/exhausting 5 days or so in St. Andrews. Unfortunately, it didn't involve any golf, or walking on the beach, or relaxing in seaside cafes or restaurants. It did, however, involve some serious over-eating!
I was at St. Andrews University, serving as chaplain to a conference run by the Church of Scotland Ministries Council for candidates for the ministry.
And a very interesting bunch of folk they are too!
Of course, as chaplain I have to observe strict confidentiality so I can't tell you all the different things that made this group (of about 90 people) so interesting. :-)
Seriously, though, it was quite encouraging to know that there are still men and women with great skills, talents and abilities willing to accept the call to ministry.
It's a long time ago now but when I think back to the days when I was training for the ministry I regret that we never had anything like these conferences (or many of the other things that are now in place for students) to help prepare us for the task. We (more or less) had to jump in at the deep end and hope that we could very quickly learn to swim.
And, not surprisingly, many didn't, and went under within the first five years of ministry.
I was delighted to learn just the other day while at the conference that there are now virtually no ministers dropping out during the first five years of ministry.
That can only be a good thing for everyone concerned.
Anyway, I know I said that I was sworn to secrecy... but without naming any names I can reveal that somewhere down the line some congregation somewhere is going to call a minister with the extraordinary (and totally useless) talent of convincingly impersonating a velociraptor.