Monday, 30 July 2007

Live life inspired

The title of this post is the motto of Zondervan publishing. I was pottering about in their website, and thought that the motto reflected my mood. (Anyone who knows me - suspend your disbelief!)

I've just started back at work after my holidays, feel good, looking forward and trying to stay positive in outlook. We'll see how it goes.

By the way, there are a few interesting bits 'n' pieces on the
Zondervan website - worth a wee look.

Anyway, other tasks await - and since my laptop is being repaired at the moment, I'm on borrowed time on this computer.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Endlessly restless

I noticed an advert on TV last night - for a SMART car. (I don't seem to notice adverts as much as I used to - wonder why?)
Anway, SMART are using the tag-line "open your mind". Their website home page displays the question "Are you open to new ideas?" And the advert last night includes the following sequence:

"Isn't it easier to stop asking questions?
Yes. But we won't.
Because we care."

I may be wide of the mark - but is there a theme here?

"Questioning takes you to a deeper level of knowing"
Jim Canterucci

So why do so many people walk through life with their minds in neutral? Doesn't feel right to me - know what I mean?

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Revenge of the ugly duckling

This would have been a somewhat different outcome for Hans Christian Andersen! The story is from “The Courier” (it’s like a newspaper) -

Big male swan kills almost all of the ducklings in the pond that they share. OK, so it’s not the nicest story in the world. But it strikes me that it could be a modern-day parable in the mould of Nathan rebuking David (2 Samuel 12).

I’ve often wondered where Jesus drew the inspiration for his parables from. I imagine him racking his brains to try to find ways to explain his message to the disciples and crowds.

"Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message."
Malcolm Muggeridge

So what is the message of the killer swan parable?

Well, maybe it’s about ‘nimby-ism’. Those with power don’t want others getting in the way of their environment. Think about asylum seekers, refugees (with numbers at record levels), care in the community… Just think about it!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

By the book

"I haven't read a book in my life. I haven't got enough time. I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines."
Victoria Beckham

According to the BBC website, ( we are reading more. Apart from Victoria Beckham – and I’m not going down that road! As Albert Einstein said:

“I refuse to engage in an intellectual battle with an unarmed man.”
‘Nuff said.

Anyway, the BBC story seems like good news - although I suppose that it depends to some extent on what is being read. Research like this is interesting, but is it valuable? Actually, I’m not going to knock it or over-analyse – just accept it as good news. I like the idea of filling gaps in schedules with reading. Given that I’m ‘pathologically early’ for everything, it’s been a habit of mine for many years to carry journals and articles with me to read in the inevitable gaps.

However, one of my bad habits has been to read a few chapters of a book and then shelve it for months, while I pick up another one repeat the process. I recently had to tidy up my bookshelves (enough to make them presentable) because we had visitors coming. So I found all the partially read stuff, and put them in the priority pile, with a challenge to myself to get through (all the way through) them over the summer. We’ll see how that goes.

And finally for today, I surprised myself. I was thinking about Romans 12, and found myself looking at the message version. Now I have a long‑standing aversion to the Message. I’ve nothing against Eugene Peterson. If I’m honest about it, it’s probably intellectual snobbery or pretentiousness on my part, but it’s real enough to me! So, I like this passage - maybe I’ll try and be a lot less judgemental and a wee bit more open-minded.

Here’s the passage:

1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Jesus rocks ...

“Our great problem is the problem of trafficking in unlived truth.”

In church yesterday, the sermon was based on John 3:16. It occurred to me that there is great significance in the context of this well-known passage. It’s Jesus response to Nicodemus’ night time visit. Jesus comments would have rocked Nicodemus’ world- not just the stuff about being ‘born again’, but also the inclusive nature of Jesus’ words. Look closely – everyone, whoever, the world. Not just the Jews then!

In Power & Passion, Samuel Wells comments:

“This is the first of two opportunities Nicodemus is given to choose between worldly respect, influence and power on the one hand and true discipleship on the other.”

I find myself wondering if the church needs to experience a Nicodemus moment – rocked by Jesus words, and facing the choice that Nicodemus was left with.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Considered neglect

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit."

This is one of my favourite quotations (and anyone reading this blog will know that I am fond of the occasional quotation). It is written on the whiteboard in my office - as a reminder to me and my teams.

It came into my head in a less positive way today - as I spent a large part of the day in the garden... weeding, weeding, cutting the grass, weeding, weeding ... I should say at this point that I love gardening and have a fairly large garden on a challenging slope.

As I thought about the chore of weeding, I was reminded of Gordon MacDonald's book "Ordering your private world". The cover notes talk in terms of a tidy garden indicating that you spend too much time weeding and not enough time on God's business. (I'm oversimplifying the argument for the sake of brevity here.) I think that the general point that he makes is reasonable - although I'm a bit aggrieved that he chose gardening as an example - why not people with a low golf handicap?

Anyway, the real point that I want to get to is the need to establish positive habits in our lives. On a practical level, if I weeded more regularly it wouldn't be such a big and tedious job. On a spiritual level, if we establish better Sabbath practices, we should have more balanced lives with greater insight to God's will for us. On a personal level, if we don't spend time doing things that we enjoy, we will become limited/ obsessed individuals - work/life balance is important.

There is a phrase that Gordon MacDonald used in his book (I think!), which I use regularly - "areas of considered neglect". These are the tasks at the bottom of my to-do-list, which will only ever get done if something happens to change their importance - and they will be replaced by other "areas of considered neglect".

Enough now - I'm wabbit (Scots word - look it up!)

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

going underground

Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.
Theodore Roethke

I’ve been thinking about trees today – thanks to another Karl Martin sermon.

The analogy that I want to think about a wee bit more is … the part of the tree above the ground is what we see. (Don’t spend too much time dwelling on this startling insight!) It’s the bit which – amongst other things - tells us about the growth of the tree and about its fruit. This is often how we measure ourselves - height, girth, fruitfulness...

On the other hand the roots are largely unseen, but provide the nutrition, strength and stability for the tree. Is this what we really need to examine? What kind of qualities are in our root system? Integrity, faithfulness, commitment, resolve...

I’m not a botanist – but I know that there’s something wrong with the plum tree in my garden. It’s got plenty of fruit on it (for its age), but it’s clearly not healthy. Could the problem be in the roots?

Does this apply to us as individuals, collectively as churches and society?

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

In ma heid

Tough day today – bunch of eejits in corporate departments seemed to be competing to see who could be most annoying; most obstructive and least focussed on customers. Just as I was working up a right good heid o’ steam for a full-on stooshie, one of my colleagues phoned to ask me to help her with a problem. Didn’t she know that I had my hands full whingeing aboot other numpties. I didn’t have time to deal with her silly, wee … haud on a meenit!!

What did Burns say?

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
Tae see ourselves as ithers see us.

Needless to say the numpties can wait and I did solve her problem (a bit!)

So why all the Scots stuff? Because I’m Scottish! And I’ve been thinking about it.

I was horrified recently by my 14 year-old daughter’s complete ignorance of so many words that I use frequently. Apart from the gaps in her knowledge – it means that she’s been ignoring a great deal of what I’ve been saying for 14 years!

More seriously, I find that my natural language is so much more expressive than mainstream English – and despite the impression created by Billy Connolly inter alia, it doesn’t need to be punctuated with swear words to be evocative.

So I’m going to start to introduce some of my favourite Scots words to this blog. Not as a regular “word of the week” commitment, but just as the fancy takes me. (There are online dictionaries to assist the confused and perplexed.)

Finally, I came across some material at work today about a conference on children and young people’s mental health – called “In ma heid”. One of the key messages seems an appropriate way to conclude this posting.

“Don’t judge me cos of what’s in my heid.”

Monday, 2 July 2007

Plus ca change …plus c’est la meme chose?

I’ve just finished reading “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman, recounting the early days of the First World War. It was written in 1962 (when I was born). I bought it after seeing the film “Thirteen Days” – about JFK and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. What’s the connection? Well, President Kennedy had read Tuchman’s book when it was published. (Leaders and learning – but I won’t go on about it today.) He drew parallels between the lessons from the book and the Cuban missile crisis. It was a new situation, with new technology, yet his advisers (especially the military) trotted out the same old advice. No learning there then!

Which got me wondering – when do we need to recognise that circumstances have changed so that the ‘same old’ solutions won’t work? Tuchman tells us that the French military staff refused to believe that the Germans would invade through Belgium because they “believed the arguments against such a maneuver more telling than the evidence for it”. Why let evidence get in the way of your prejudices?

Some of the problems faced by the French were attributed to the leaders: “general officers … performed the functions of corporals, not commanders.”

Finally, reflecting at the end of her book on the whole war she writes:

“Men could not sustain a war of such magnitude and pain without hope – the hope that its very enormity would ensure that it could never happen again … Nothing less could give dignity or sense to monstrous offensives in which thousands and hundreds of thousands were killed to gain ten yards and exchange one wet-bottomed trench for another.”

"History is the sum total of the things that could have been avoided."
Konrad Adenauer

Iraq, anyone?

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Do you want mustard with that?

A great many people think that they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
William James

Today I was looking back at a sermon that I delivered in 2000, because I am preparing a Bible study for our youth Nurture Group on the same passage. The sermon doesn’t seem too bad to me. Nowadays I might have been a bit more challenging about our cosy attitudes and tendency towards ‘nimby-ism’ (in thought and deed).

What did bother me was the frighteningly dull order of service that I had prepared for that Sunday morning. The only radical departure from our bog standard service was to have two readings from the Bible – one before the kids left for Sunday School, my act of rebellion! Trouble is, 7 years on our services are the same. Aye, I know that we project the words of the songs rather than using books. And I have to acknowledge that our pastor has started to use Powerpoint during his sermons in the past few weeks (honestly – we are at the cutting edge now!). This blog isn’t the place to slag - I mean comment – on the quality of preaching, but can this stultifying “hymn sandwich” approach really be the way forward?

To adapt Timothy Leary, it’s a bit like: Turn up, switch off, drop off

And yet, through this gloom, there are signs that God cannot or will not be limited by our ineptitude.

"One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So what about the mustard reference? "Hymn sandwich"of course! ;-)