Sunday, 30 September 2007

Out of the storm

I recently read this book by Derek Wilson, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Wilson presents Luther as a passionate individual, who sometimes finds trouble by sticking rigidly to his position. (Naturally, this appeals to me.)

It’s over 20 years since I read Bainton’s ‘Here I stand’, so comparisons are difficult. But my impression from reading Wilson is that there is less of a heroic emphasis on Luther. While Wilson clearly admires him, he does show Luther in unfavourable light at certain times.

“We must feel the force of his passion because, if we do not, we have not got close to the real man.”

For me, it felt like Wilson was close to capturing the real man.

I particularly enjoyed the final section of the book when the author assesses the impact of Luther over the intervening centuries, up to our times. It is a fascinating analysis and well worth reading.

Reflecting on the book – from a personal perspective – maybe I need to be more aware of the possible consequences of ‘taking a stand’, and learn to pick my battles more carefully. It’s not about avoiding defeat, so much as being sure that winning is worth the cost.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Garden visitor

We had a visitor to our garden today. I think it's a hawker of some sort. We haven't seen any here (Perth, Scotland) before. All the more surprising since we had a sharp frost the other night.

Looking at it up close (the pink background is a towel that it landed on), it was truly amazing. It makes me realise how wonderful God's creation is - and therefore the responsibility placed on us to look after it.

If anyone knows anything about this amazing insect, I'd love to know more (but please remember that I'm not at all scientific).

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

If a picture paints 1,000 words ...

I received a newsletter from a guy called Kevin Eikenberry (management type of stuff). I've deleted the e-mail, so I'm working from memory here!

Anyway, he's inviting people to send him photos/ pictures, which he will post on his site without much - if any - comment. Well, I liked the idea, so here are a couple to start things off.

Feel the vibe

This marks a half-century - my 50th blog entry. Not overly impressive, but worth noting in a minor sort of way.

Dolly Daydream (my teenage daughter) introduced me to Netvibes recently. What a cool thing! You can organise most (though not all) of the websites, blogs etc that you visit. You can get news updates and any other RSS type feeds from the Net. Maybe I'm the last person on the InterWeb to catch on to this (which wouldn't come as a surprise to Dolly D!). But if you haven't come across it yet - have a look.

Normal blogging service will resume shortly (when I have more than 5 minutes to spare!).

Monday, 24 September 2007

Anyone for integrity?

I've been thinking a bit about integrity lately - troubled by a colleague's apparent inability to grasp the concept and their willingness to exploit every opportunity for the benefit of their department, whatever the greater good might demand.

If this sounds sanctimonious, then maybe it is! I know that I sometimes cross the boundary between being right and being righteous.

Anyway, a couple of articles on this topic caught my attention, over at Mark Sanborn and Harvard Business Online.

So, I've been thinking: 'Is there a distinction between public and private integrity?'

Now when phrased like that the answer seems obvious (it's NO for the avoidance of doubt). But if you re-phrase (as my colleague might), along the lines of remaining true to yourself, being pragmatic in public, avoiding discord, or recognising the realpolitik in any given situation, you can begin to see how people justify their actions to themselves.

Nevertheless - leading with my chin as usual - public and private integrity are indivisible, they always will be, wherever that leads me. And I know that it will lead me into further conflict with my colleague.

How else can we be light in this (sometimes) dark world?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

sportsmanship par excellence

I used to play football with a guy who occasionally infuriated my team-mates, but always made me smile. He never claimed a corner if he knew it wasn't, he frequently conceded debatable throw-ins to the opposition - not out of generosity but out of honesty. But he never shirked a tackle or played 'soft' - he was just principled and honest. (He was - and as far as I know is - a Christian who went into chaplaincy, I think.)

Anyway I was reminded of Honest Ewan's sportsmanship - and integrity - when I heard about a football match played last night.

Short version of long story - the match between Nottingham Forest and Leicester was abandoned (voluntarily by Forest) when one of the Leicester players had a heart attack. Forest were leading 1-0 at the time.
The re-arranged match was played last night - and Leicester allowed the Forest goalie to score straight from the kick-off, to restore the 1-0 lead. I think that this is a brilliant display of sportsmanship, and it fair warmed the cockles of my heart.

Check out the story over at the BBC website.

Monday, 17 September 2007

contemplative activists

Intelligent church, intelligent book.

The sub-title (A Journey Towards Christ-Centred Community) describes what the book is about – and what our churches should be about.

Chalke quotes Phil Wall stating that we are ‘called to be contemplative activists’. I suspect that most Christian churches in the UK are likely to be comfortable with either half of that description, but bringing them together? If we’re honest that’s very uncomfortable.

Whatever situation your church is in I’d be astonished if you didn’t find something in this book that makes you wince. The ‘ouch’ factor is high.

The chapter headings alone will serve to identify gaps in our mission – intelligent, inclusive, messy, honest, purposeful, generous, vulnerable, political, diverse, dependent, transforming church. If you think that your church is able to model Christ in each of these areas, don’t bother to read this book – although you might want to have a look at the chapter on honest church!

It’s well worth reading – although expect to be challenged. Whether you change – is up to you.

“The shape of the way we do church – our traditions, our meetings, our buildings, our liturgies, our governance, our dress and countless more of our cultural preferences – can no longer be allowed to determine the shape and style of our mission and so limit what our communities and our society as a whole can see or know of Christ. It is time to do church differently.”

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Sporting prowess

I’ve been reminded a few times in recent day about some of the more memorable moments from the sporting events of my youth.

First of all the exploits of TJ over at the road less travelled, reminded me of a rugby sevens competition between the halls of residence at St Andrews. The competition rules stated that anyone who was playing for the University first or second teams was ineligible. This seemed fair, and the rule was adopted consistently. We fielded a motley crew of moderately skilful players, some reasonably skilful but chronically unfit players and others whose enthusiasm compensated for their lack of knowledge (without being chauvinistic this last group could also be described as Americans!). In those days – it was a long time ago – I was considered to have a reasonable burst of pace (over a short distance), so in the first match I was given the task of marking the opposing team’s star player. The trouble was this guy was very good. He didn’t play for the University teams because he was too good. In fact, he was on the fringes of the Scottish international squad. That day re-defined my appreciation of pace. We were soundly trounced, and I only ever came within touching distance of my opponent when he trotted back after scoring (with annoying frequency) and threw the ball to me for the re-start.

The second reminder came the other night, when some friends told us about a trophy that their son was sharing with another boy – there were only 2 of them eligible for it. I only ever won one trophy in my sporting career – and it was shared with a team-mate. This time it was football. For one season I played for our hall of residence second team in the Sunday afternoon league. I know – football on a Sunday!! It’s an outrage and clearly contrary to many Biblical principles and I put my lack of success down to the sinful timing of the matches!
(Tongue out of cheek, he continues with the dull story …) I have always nurtured a sense of un-fairness about having to share the award. My goal was beyond doubt the best goal – a screaming left foot volley from the edge of the penalty box that flew straight into the ‘postage stamp’, leaving the goalkeeper rooted to the spot. It was – and I say this in all modesty – absolutely spectacular. However, in fairness to those who judged the awards it wasn’t strategically important as it made the score 5-0. By contrast, my colleague’s goal did tip the balance of a key game – and, in fact, proved to be the winning goal. By the way, did I mention that they were the own goals of the season?

Our prize wasn’t the golden boot, but a silver slipper – well we each received one silver ladies stiletto (from a pair rescued from a charity shop). Eventually – well two days later – the pair was reunited, by our cleaner who spotted the shoes in our separate rooms and asked if she could have them, since they fitted her. Neither of us had any reluctance to part with our trophy!

While I haven’t found fame and fortune in the sporting world, I think it’s fair to say that I fulfilled my potential, and but for one foolish venture form retirement (a game of rugby 10 years ago), I recognised when I had peaked at quit at the height of my prowess!

Friday, 14 September 2007

Good news of great joy

Anyone who has read this blog recently will have noticed that I’ve been acting as cheerleader (without pom-poms!) for The memory of place installation in St Mary’s Church in York.

The York Museum Trust usually have an installation per year in this de-commissioned church. However, this year The memory of place will close in October this year… and re-open in May 2008. This is due to the positive reaction to the piece.

If you are anywhere near York you really should go and see it. No, go and experience it. It is fantastic.

In my enthusiasm for others to go, I’m reminded of Bill Bryson’s reaction to arriving in Durham in Notes from a Small Island:

"I got off at Durham... and fell in love with it instantly in a serious way. Why, it's wonderful - a perfect little city.... If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful."

Go, go now … just don’t ask to borrow my car!!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Life saver

15 nanometres!

I've got no idea what a nanometre is - other than it's very, very, very small. Smaller than an extremely small thing. Tinier than tiny. Think teeny weeny, then half it...

Anyway, I heard about this on the radio this evening (yes, Radio 2) - it's a bottle that filters and purifies water. Unlike other versions, this one has an improved filter (15 nanometres). This means that it will filter out bacteria (200 nanometres) and viruses (25 nanometres). It works with any fresh water and doesn't use chemicals. More details over at Life saver bottle.

The guy who is responsible for this was inspired when thinking about the Boxing Day tsunami and Hurricane Katrina - and he did something about it.

It costs £195 and can be used for up to 6,000 litres of water - how does that compare to a bottle of Evian??

It's perfect for emergency relief situations - brilliant!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Mind clutter

I was thinking about the purpose of blogging over the weekend - or more accurately the addictive nature of it. Also, I realised that (for me) there's a tendency to get on a hobby horse and get a bit stuck. I guess that one side-effect of being passionate is the tendency to be obsessive about things. (Actually there's another blog in this - about intelligence and shadows.)

I came across a phrase that seemed to sum up my issues - 'mind clutter'. I like that, so I found myself wondering what the Scots version of this might be. 'Mind midden' came to mind, but I prefer 'psycho stoor' - you know, the stuff that gets in the way of your thinking.

So I think that I need to be more aware of what's happening in 'ma heid', and driving home tonight, I heard Tim Hughes (the worship leader guy) talking about a way that he keeps himself balanced. Once a week he reflects on these 5 areas:

- What's been the highlight(s) of the week?
- What have been the low points?
- What’s the key lessons that I've learned?
- Action point - to help you develop
- Warning - be aware of attitude, situation, balance of life etc.

I might try this out - and see what happens through this blog! Feel free to pass judgement and comment!

Saturday, 8 September 2007

The memory of place #2

This first impression on entering the building was one of peace and tranquillity. As I began to take in what was before me, I recognised that the installation involved participation – if you so chose – through lighting a floating candle and placing it in the gently flowing water. The candles were then carried along towards the pillar of light (glass rods) at the other end of the church.

There was a sense of warmth and energy – not frantic energy, but something powerful – in this church building dating from the 13th century. There was also a feeling of welcome, largely due to the helpful yet unobtrusive staff. There was no pressure to participate, yet they were ready and willing to explain and assist. There was also no problem about taking photos and no need to hurry through.

What can we learn from this? There are all sorts of aspects that we could reflect on welcome, participation, submitting our small contributions to the power of the Spirit and trusting that we will flow in the right direction, maybe (for people like me) accepting the direction of flow. But for me the most memorable thing is that it was memorable – I can still recall the various aspects clearly and feel very positive as I write about it. And one more thing, having visited it on my own I was enthusiastic that the rest of my family should see it.

The publicity material for The Memory of Place says:

“… the site demands that the artist is sensitive to the church’s architectural qualities, spatial presence and historical identity.”

Maybe that’s also true for us as we attempt to shape the church in the 21st century.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The memory of place

During the summer (?) we were on holiday in York - good, relaxing break, mixed weather, met some friends, made some new temporary friends (embarrassing Dad thing that I do). And visited quite a few churches - well I did anyway.

Of course we went to the Minster and I enjoyed it more than my previous visit - somehow it felt more like a place of worship this time around. By contrast, went to a service at another church that we've been to before, and while the music and the 'up front bits' were good, there was no feeling of welcome - despite the church being packed. In fact, when the congregation was asked to say hello to the person next to them, no-one spoke to us. It wasn't that we were smelly or anything - they simply turned to the people that were sitting next to them, and who clearly sit next to them every week, and had a good old chinwag. Maybe we were causing offence by sitting in someone else's seat!

More positively, while the women in my life were shopping, I wandered off and visited some of the smaller churches dotted around the centre of York. (Actually I spent quite a lot of time doing this - because they spent quite a lot of time shopping!) This is where the link to my current thinking on church and vision - and increasingly worship - comes in. There are a number of church buildings in York that serve different purposes, and maybe they will offer a way to expand my thinking - almost acting as parables.

St Mary's Church is actually de-commissioned (is that the right word?), and is now used by York Museums Trust as a venue for art stuff. While we were in York, there was an installation called The memory of place by Keiko Mukaide. This will feature in future blogs - both as a narrative reflection, but also through the use of some of the photos that I took (starting with the one above).

Thursday, 6 September 2007

10 two-letter words

The golfer Ben Hogan is attributed with this quotation - comprising 10 two-letter words:

"If it is to be, it is up to me."

So how does this relate to church vision?

Well, at housegroup on Tuesday night we were looking at the big question 'How far are we the church that God has called us to be in 2007?' During the discussion one of our group asked if we should really be answering a different question - 'How far are we the Christians that God has called us to be in 2007?'

This got me thinking. I don't think that Hogan's saying is the way to address the vision thing, but I do think that it brings me back to a point where I need to be reflective and consider my role in developing and shaping this thing called church.

Also in the absence of an agreed vision, I see it as part of my duty to think big thoughts, to express what I think God is saying to us - and then to listen to what others have to say. To be honest, the first two tasks are relatively straightforward - I struggle a bit with the listening part.

So I need to improve on this. I've found something that might help me on the way. It's a 'habitude' - I found it on Magpie Girl's blog. The idea being to make an effort over a period of time to transform a habit or an attitude - I like that! So here goes ...

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Out of the mouths of fishwives

Driving down to visit my parents the other weekend, the fishwife turned to me and said something like: "You're really passionate about this, aren't you?' Maybe not too surprising until you're told that I was blethering about the public sector in Scotland - I'm not sure how many people would admit a passion for this. But I will!

In recent times I've realised that I'm more passionate about lots of things than I realised. You know, the kind of passion that displays itself as a burning desire for change/ improvement/ fulfilment ... And the more I reflect on my hobby horses, the more impassioned I become.
That's why I keep asking questions, looking for answers, needing to know the vision... and generally making a nuisance of myself.

I will keep going, and over the next few days I'm going to be developing some of the thoughts about church that are occupying me. (Reading this again, it sounds a bit like a statement of defiance - it's meant to be a statement of commitment!)

Just to get it started, I'm thinking that our church (and all churches?) should be a "church in the community, with a community in the church".

"You can be creative inside or outside of tradition. Outside of tradition, you create a new world. Inside of creation, you create a new way to do the old things much better."
Wynton Marsalis

Is it too greedy to want both?

Monday, 3 September 2007

That vision thing again!

Everywhere I look at the moment I find things that prompt me to think about this vision stuff. I post these as food for thought, without further comment from me.

"If you do not know yourself, it is difficult to judge what you should become.
If you do not know where you are, it is difficult to decide where to go and how.
If you do not know what you are really good at, it is tough to know what to do."
Chris Zook (Harvard Business Online)

"Might Jesus be speaking to many of us in the Western church today? Wedded to our traditions and prejudices, are we in danger of denying the untidy glory of Christ's church? Are we willing to embrace changes, new circumstances and 'fresh expressions'?
Helen Parry (LICC)

Sunday, 2 September 2007

The vision thing

I'm looking forward to our new series of housegroups - starting this week. We're finally going to look at the vision and direction that our church should be taking. Since I've been 'banging on' about this for a while now, I hope that we have a good set of discussions but more importantly that we reach an agreed way forward - and then get on and do it.

"When there is a desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making."
John Milton

Here's to "much arguing" and maybe some future blogs!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Invent the future

I became aware yesterday from another blog (The Road Less Traveled) that today is the start of the College football season in the United States.

For the avoidance of doubt, that’s their version of football – you know the one where they hardly ever kick the ball!

Anyway, I heard a brief report on television coming from Virginia Tech – where there was the multiple shooting tragedy in April this year. While American culture is in many ways alien to me, I do grasp (albeit tentatively) that college football has a strong hold on the psyche of many Americans. So clearly the start of the season at Virginia Tech will be very emotive.

The analyst on the television said something like “Today’s more about fellowship than cheering. This left me wondering about the healing power of communities – especially aroung social rituals.

Last week in the UK, we had the moving ‘minute of applause’ at Everton’s football (i.e. proper football aka soccer) match in memory of Rhys Jones and in support of his family and friends.

I’m reminded of Bill Shankly’s whimsical remark that:

'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.'

Well, maybe it is in a way.

Final thought – the title of this post is the mission of Virginia Tech. Their motto is Ut prosim – that I may serve.

Both seem to me to be very fitting sentiments at the start of a new season (for football and life).