Friday, January 23, 2009

Consider the lichens

There is an immediate and obvious beauty to the more spectacular specimens of the plant world, such as large brightly-coloured orchids and tall cheerful sunflowers, but if you take the time to stop and take a closer look you may discover that there is an impressive, even breath-taking, beauty to be found in all sorts of places.
I know virtually nothing about lichens but I do know that looked at closely and carefully some may demonstrate a strange and wonderful beauty of their own.
(assuming my photograph above is of a lichen on a host plant)
When it comes to people, it is no doubt infinitely more important to recognise that there is more to most folk than meets the eye at first glance.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A new dawn

[Sunrise in Ardross- my sister's garden]

Along with millions of other people in Washington and around the globe, I found the Inauguration of President Obama very moving. I even allowed myself the audacity to hope that things could definitely change for the better.
Could they get much worse than under the last presidency?
(By the way, do you think President Bush completely lacks self-awareness or is simply very good at hiding his embarrassment? Obama did not "miss him and hit the wall.")

As I said in a sermon a few days after the US election, once of the reasons that Obama won is that somehow he managed to convince a lot of people in America that he was less interested in the hope of power than he was in the power of hope.
To quote a little bit from that sermon, speaking of the story of Jesus:
"Someone who was totally innocent, and who preached only love, was made to suffer unspeakable torture, and his life was snatched from him in the cruellest of ways. At the time, it must have seemed to the followers of Jesus that all the dark forces of evil and injustice had won the day. They'd come out on top.
Might is right. Power prevails. Evil wins.
Darkness has swallowed up the light.
Or so it must have seemed at the time.
Until the resurrection of Jesus turned that assessment on its head and gave to the first Christians an unquenchable hope, a hope that nothing, not even death itself, could ultimately defeat the purposes of God. A hope, a confidence, that eventually the way of love, not the way of power, would win the day.
The light had overcome the darkness... and always would in the end.
As the title of one book puts it: "And the Lamb wins!" *
That HOPE, which the first followers of Jesus had, a hope solidly based on the resurrection of Jesus, turned out to be an unstoppable force. Not even the might of the Roman Empire could hold it back- no matter how many Christians were put to the sword. Because the power of hope is ultimately stronger than the hope of power."
No one should ever underestimate the power of hope.

On a more mundane level, I was amused, and vaguely reassured, when the new President seemed to fluff his lines on taking the oath of office. [It turns out that the original mistake was by the Judge administering the oath, Chief Justice Roberts, and just to be sure they did the whole thing again afterwards. ]
But, whoever was to blame, it showed that the people participating were only human after all and the occasion had got to them.
It happens sometimes in wedding ceremonies too. I've had brides (and bridegrooms) bursting into tears (disturbing) or into a fit of giggles (even more disturbing) and, on more than one occasion, had a bridegroom promising to be "beautiful" rather than "dutiful" (which sometimes I reckoned would have been an impossible vow to keep.)
Returning to the Presidential Inauguration, however, I allowed myself (naughtily) a wry smile and chuckle at the sight of Dick Cheney in a wheelchair. Apparently he had hurt his back moving books out of his White House Office. As someone who occasionally has back problems himself, I sympathise with him and have no wish to see him, or anyone else, in pain.
But all the same... how are the mighty fallen!!

* I haven't read the book, so I'm not recommending it or otherwise - I just liked the title.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Staying vertical

In spite of my bad start to the CWW Conference at Aviemore, I did manage to do my bit, helping with the worship, and taking part in a seminar (above) on Overseas Partnerships. Anyone interested in what it was all about can download the main talks etc. from the website.
Thanks to Peter Johnston for the photograph.

Something round again

In response to several requests from my younger readers... here is another "mystery object."
This time, I think it may not be too difficult.
What do you think it is?

Round and round we go...

[Foggy Morning on the Black Isle]

Apologies once again for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere.
This was partly due to my being away at a "Church Without Walls" conference in Aviemore, where I did not have internet access (or, to be more precise, where I grudged paying for it!) the real reason, however, is that while I was at the conference I took ill and have been off work since.
Turns out to be acute labyrinthitis. More frustrating than serious. (Frustrating even for my GP who wasn't sure how to spell it!)
It all began on a Friday morning when I became totally deaf in my right ear; a bizarre experience, since I am used to being partially deaf in my left ear. Now I had to rely entirely on my "bad" ear. A recipe for confusion! Whatever sounds I did manage to hear were impossible to locate. A good lesson all the same in the old truth that "you don't know what you've got till it's gone!"
I was just getting used to the idea of being responsible for all the music at the conference while being virtually deaf (ironic really) when on the Sunday evening I had my first (and pretty scary) attack of labyrinthitis- in front of 300+ people, of course!
It was a bewildering experience all round... come to think of it "all round" is not too bad a description. Everything seemed to start spinning uncontrollably in all directions. I couldn't stand up any more. I broke into a cold sweat and apparently turned the colour of semi-skimmed milk (i.e. only a hint of cream...)
I spent the next hour and a half, lying shivering on the floor, wrapped up in a foil blanket like a Christmas turkey waiting to be popped into the oven. Thankfully I was also being attended to by a very helpful and friendly "NHS 24" Doctor, called in by the hotel, as well as a very kind nurse and another doctor I already knew, both of whom were attending the conference.
At the time the symptoms were so severe that the doctor didn't want to confirm a diagnosis. But - hey - I'm still here! and for that I am glad.
I've since had one other bad attack but otherwise everything is just a little bit wobbly and foggy from time to time... and some of the hearing has returned to my right ear.
I got a nice long explanation from my own doctor about what was going on inside my inner ear; something to do with debris in the semi-circular canals. Personally, when an acute attack comes on, it feels to me like someone has dumped a couple of supermarket trolleys in my canals!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Doubt your doubts

[the rolling landscape of South Lanarkshire near Wiston Lodge]

A colleague of mine sent me this link to a fascinating article in the Times by Matthew Parris.
There's a refreshing honesty about it, and it seems to me to be a perfect example of why it is always useful, from time to time, to question your certainties and to doubt your doubts.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Oh... I know... it's already the sixth day of 2009 and this is the first time I've blogged this year. Just as well, I didn't make any New Year resolution to post a blog every day.
Do people seriously make New Year resolutions these days?
I know myself too well even to kid myself on about it.
New Year means very little to me... except that is when I get to go away for a couple of nights to the Fiddle Force Winter School, held for the last 9 or 10 years at Wiston Lodge. [the photograph above shows the low afternoon sunlight casting shadows through some of Wiston's woodland]
It has been a busy end to 2008 and start to 2009 for me with lots of funerals to conduct, so the chance to go away and forget things for a day or two is virtually irresistible.

Highlights of Fiddle Force 2009?
  • some excellent tunes, great advice and good laughs from tutor Alasdair White
  • improvising to some great old-time stuff from some of the Wiston folk, a mixture of blues, skiffle, American folk and who-knows-what-else
  • playing tunes till 3.30am
  • catching up with friends, many of whom I only see once a year
  • some great conversations
  • good food and plenty of it
  • it was cold!!! And I mean, cold!! (Outside and inside the house, in spite of the log fires.)
  • leaving on the Sunday afternoon I managed to reverse my car into a big block of sandstone that was just too low to be visible in my wing mirrors... crunch!! So it turned out to be a pretty expensive weekend after all.
Anyway, I still think it is good to start the year with music.

If anybody still reads this stuff, may I wish you a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR.