Friday, 30 November 2007

Friday photo - to everything there is a season ...

... until global warming

... or genetic modification

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The church meeting blues

I’m a member of a Baptist Church, which means that we are congregational in our governance. Last night we had our quarterly church members meeting.

Mostly it was dull – there were a couple of highlights, including feedback from our housegroups’ thinking about the direction for our church. But overall it was dull.

I can’t imagine that this is what Jesus intended his church to become.

My thinking was crystallised by one topic that was discussed at some length (the only topic that was discussed at all really). Without going into details – the deacons and pastor had made a decision which they were bringing to the meeting for endorsement. The rationale for the decision-making approach was the need to act speedily on this topic.

Nobody had a problem with the decision itself, but there were concerns expressed about the way the decision was made without reference to the church meeting. Those expressing their concerns were some of the more traditional members of our congregation – in fact, some of those with a long-standing Baptist background (unlike most of our members, including me).

So what? Well, this strikes me as an issue that needs to be carefully considered.

How do we equip our leadership team to make decisions, without constantly referring back to church meetings, and ensure that they remain accountable to the church for those decisions? I understand how difficult it is to serve in a leadership position in church (and other voluntary situations) – I’ve been there!

How do we deal with the concept of congregational governance as our church gets bigger and more complex?

But more fundamentally than any of these things – how do we have a conversation on these issues without people adopting defensive or antagonistic positions. I have a fair degree of sympathy with those who raised the issue, and also admire (to some extent) their courage in speaking up. I did not like some of the manner in which the concerns were raised. I was equally unimpressed by contributions on the other 'side' of the debate.

I was impressed by the graciousness and wisdom of the oldest person who spoke during the debate. I am saddened that this wasn’t reflected by the rest of us who took part.

The debate does need to continue – hopefully in a loving, listening and considerate manner.

Then at the end of the meeting the pastor announced that he’d received a message – during the meeting the son of our members had suddenly collapsed and died. May he rest in peace.

And may we learn to keep our issues in a sense of perspective.
PS - just before I published this I found a link to an article about leadership (thanks to Camel Crossing). It's not directly related to my comments above, but it provides some food for thought and given my interest in leadership, I may return to this in another post.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

As weak as water

For reasons that will keep for another entry, I was thinking about the Tao de Ching, in relation to HIV/ AIDS.

“In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it. This is because there is nothing that can take its place.
That the weak overcomes the strong,
And the submissive overcomes the hard,
Everyone in the world knows yet no one can put this knowledge into practice.”

Topsy-turvy thinking? A bit like ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …’

The weak and the strong. HIV/AIDS stricken Africa and the affluent West?

Monday, 26 November 2007

The church solution

Yesterday in church we watched a DVD produced by Tearfund for their Global Poverty Prayer Week (albeit it was a couple of weeks late!). The Tearfund materials are fantastic.

So to avoid being tardy, I thought I’d highlight the equally amazing resources that they have in relation to HIV/AIDS – in the lead up to World Aids Day on 1 December.

“People were suffering and nobody was caring for them.”

Take a look at the film – then think carefully about how to respond. Is the church part of the solution? Do we help or do we judge – or even worse not care?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

What a wonderful world

Today's thoughts were prompted by His Girl Friday's entry "Play me the blues".

In his day my dad played trumpet and clarinet in various dance bands and orchestras (he's no longer able to blow his horn). Actually, I blame/thank him for my diverse musical interests. One of my dad's favourites was Louis Armstrong, and I think that "What a wonderful world" is an iconic piece of Satchmo. I also love his version of Summertime (probably my favourite song of all time) with Ella Fitzgerald.

As readers of this blog will know, my musical taste is diverse (see above) and I'm also partial to Joey Ramone's version of 'wonderful world'. Which do you prefer?

Question is - can I pass on my musical inheritance to Dolly D? Might be a challenge - although she does share some of my taste - particularly the more anarchic element.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Life after death

This will be the last entry for the time being about our visit to London. Originally we planned the trip to see the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum – but we couldn’t get tickets. So we decided to go to the Tutankhamun exhibition instead.

Having paid quite handsomely for the tickets, we then read some reviews that were less than glowing! I thought it was fantastic and fascinating. There’s a photo essay at the Time website which will give an impression of the exhibits.

I was intrigued by the extraordinary lengths that the Pharoahs went to model this life in the next. Apart from the elaborate coffins and containers for mummified organs, they also included models of fruit and everyday household articles (jugs, bowls etc). They also (in a similar way to the Chinese emperor) provided servants for the afterlife. The Egyptian shabti could perform any required work in the afterlife.

In ancient Egypt the Pharoah was seen as an intermediary between man and the gods in his earthly life, who was destined for divinity after death. I didn’t know (or had forgotten that King Tut’s dad had reformed their polytheistic religion, and introduced worship of one god. These reforms were reversed by King Tut.

So what else intrigued me? Well, at the time I was struck by some curious things that may reflect prophetically in ways that are beyond our comprehension. (What am I talking about?)

The hieroglyph that means ‘life’ is called ‘ankh’ – spot it in the middle of King Tut’s name! The cross as life – interesting?

Also, the symbols of power that the pharaoh carried (equivalent to the orb and sceptre of our monarchs) were a flail and a shepherd’s crook. Seems to be some resonance here too.

This week I’ve been reading some of the passages from Exodus about the priestly garments and paraphernalia – there are some parallels in terms of the intricate detail of the breastpiece etc., although I’m not sure what conclusions to reach – if any – about this.

Of course, I couldn’t ignore the incredible injustice that must have existed in ancient Egypt – with so much wealth and activity consumed by the preparations for the Pharoah’s eternal well-being. Forced labour, exploitation and greed aren’t a new phenomenon – nor are they only in the past!

Any negatives about the exhibition? Well, there were no queues thanks to timed tickets, the exhibition wasn’t too crowded after the first room or so as we managed to spread out. There was an exquisite beauty about many of the exhibits. However, inevitably the exhibition concluded by forcing you into the shop. Filled with overpriced King Tut tat, it was a disappointing end to a well presented, intriguing and (for me) thought-provoking event.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Friday photo - ancient and modern

(Idea pinched from another blogger.)

They say you can tell how prosperous a city is by the number of cranes you can see.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

It cracks me up - but is it art?

While in London we made our customary trip to the Tate Modern. It’s always been worthwhile – and there’s quite a good restaurant too (although we know another place near by if you’re interested).

This time we knew what was going to be in the turbine hall, having read about it in several papers. Basically it’s a crack in the floor – really!

When we entered the gallery I wasn’t very impressed. We were looking at it from above and it looked just like a … crack. However, when we went down to floor level, I found it strangely captivating, and my attitude towards it changed. It was compelling and seemed to draw you in to the chasm – to poke and to probe.

The work is called Shibboleth, but I think it would have more resonance if it was re-named “Well, I drapped a shilling!”

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Therapy and retail

I’m not one of life’s natural shoppers. By contrast, Dolly D seems to have an insatiable appetite – not for spending money, just for looking and enjoying the experience. Inevitably shopping featured in our trip to London, but with agreement about how the time was balanced. I’m sure that she would have taken up residence in Selfridge’s, given the opportunity.

To be fair the shopping experience wasn’t too bad for me – given agreed limits and my permit to be elsewhere at times while ‘shopping’ was happening.

When we were in London some, but not all, of the Christmas lights were on. I found Oxford Street to be disappointing, although some of the individual department stores had made an effort.

By contrast, I thought that Carnaby Street was fantastic – really captured the mood of the season and the street. Maybe they use the same lights every year, but they seemed to me to be innovative and fun – definitely worth the detour from Regent Street to see them.

But behind it all I still have nagging doubts about our (societal) propensity to consume. Hmmm…

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Trafalgar Square – or is it trendy?

I really like the contrasts that Trafalgar Square offers – the ancient monuments and sculptures, the backdrop of the National Gallery, the rush of traffic, alongside the groups of children (and adults) scrambling on the columns and plinths. I like the way that modern art has been integrated to the square in recent years. (I don’t like the pigeons!)

The latest addition to the square is called “Model for a Hotel 2007”. I think it’s great. It really does catch the eye, and it seems to change subtly as the passing traffic is reflected on its underside.

For me the integration of modern pieces reflects the vibrancy of the city, and prevents the square becoming
dated and out of place in our society. Not everyone
agrees – as you can see from the Guardian article. But each to their own!

I hope it’s still there the next time that I’m down that way – I’d like to see it again, maybe at a different time of day, and see if I still like it.

Monday, 19 November 2007

London in November

We've just spent a few days in London (which is in danger of becoming an annual tradition!). The more we visit, the more we seem to enjoy it.

After our train journey, which was reasonably pleasant (for a change), we dumped our bags at the hotel and headed into town. As we arrived at Trafalgar Square, there was a beautiful sunset. Beauty and London haven't really seemed to be connected to me, but this was breath-taking, and the photo doesn't come close to doing it justice. The weather was good throughout our short stay, and we literally saw the city in a different light.

More dull thoughts and musings will follow, as I get around to sorting out my photos, notes and thoughts.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Quoting Moltmann

Having posted my last entry, I found a great Jurgen Moltmann quotation on prayer over at Adventures in Following Jesus. It's worth a look.

Lies, damned lies and statistics about prayer

No, I'm not casting aspersions about the validity of the Tearfund prayer report! In this (final) post about the report I want to consider some surprising stats that emerge from the report, particularly relating to the regional analysis.

London topped the charts with 73% of people saying that they ever prayed. For Scotland the figure was a disappointing 32%. Still at least we're not from Yorkshire - 24%.

Do Londoners really pray more than the Scots? Well, I'm going down there for a couple of days so I might just ask around a bit.

The report suggests that one reason why more Londoners pray than any other region is due to "the number of black and ethnic minorities, who show a higher propensity for prayer".

Well, I wonder if there might be other reasons. Is our personal spirituality shaped by the prevailing culture of our churches? In Scotland, the Calvinist, presbyterian model is based on a fairly passive congregation listening to a man preaching. The rest of the service being fairly restrained and under-stated (some might say sombre). By contrast, the Anglican tradition seems to me to be a more participative event (congregational responses, movement during the service, greeting each other) based around the liturgy. Recognising the over-simplification in this analysis - could it explain some differences in spirituality which continues into the 21st century?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of my comments, I still think that Francois Fenelon was right:

"Of all the duties enjoined by Christianity none is more essential and yet more neglected than prayer. "

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Pray, and let God worry

The blog title is a quotation from Martin Luther. It came to mind when reading a part of the Tearfund report, which highlights the calming effects of prayer.

After prayer 38% of people felt peaceful/content; 22% close to God. 80% reported that prayer made them feel better. This section of the report is entitled 'Too Busy Not To Pray' (referring to Bill Hybels' book) and concludes with this sentence:

"It [prayer] provides a moment of reflection and it provokes positive emotions in the person praying."

I realise that this is not the exeperience of everyone, and in fact, these conclusions can make some people feel worse because they don't respond in this way. This is one example of areas where we need to be sensitive to those around us - often we/I lack this sensitivity and trot out one-dimensional opinions and viewpoints.

Nevertheless the Tearfund report and other research highlights the value that there is in the act of praying. Intriguingly (for me) they make a link between these benefits from prayer and the processing of slowing down and reflecting. They also refer to the Stephen Cottrell book that I've been blogging about recently.

This brought to mind a time when I was a student in St Andrews (hence the photo) and going through a bit of a rough time. I recall vividly - which is unusual for me - walking along the East Sands one night in the haar, feeling completely confused and then without really noticing anything happening I felt completely at peace and reassured. I came to a conclusion about the direction of my life - and have had no regrets ever since.

Prayer takes many forms, but maybe it's most effective when we don't use our feeble words and simply let God work in our hearts.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Prayer in the UK

Tearfund has designated this week (11-17 November 2007) as Global Poverty Prayer Week. To coincide with this, they have just published a survey about prayer habits in the UK. I haven't read the report yet, but it was heartening that some of the Sunday papers picked up the story.

Headline figures include 1 in 5 people believes prayer changes the world; 9 million people pray every day. Over the next couple of days, I'll read the report - and probably pass comment on it! In the meantime, I rejoice that prayer has made the headlines. Go on, be part of a news story - pray!

"When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't pray, they don't."
William Temple

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Keep Sunday special?

“… rather than fighting a rearguard action to keep Sunday special, it might be better to consider how you can build some Sabbath time into the schedules and rhythms of the life you have. These are the disciplines of slowing down and shutting up… They are the recovery of Sabbath, the creation of a place of rest where joy and contentment can flourish.”
Stephen Cottrell

This quotation seems to sum up the essence of what a modern day Sabbath should be about. We need to avoid the legalism that is often associated with Sabbath-keeping – and the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign. However, we also need to find ways to gain the benefits of Sabbath habits.

Some suggestions from my own experience and feelings at this time include the following:

  • Avoid using your chosen Sabbath day to catch up with chores. Make sure that the chores are planned for other days.

  • Spend time positively with God. In my case, that usually includes going to church (more of that in a wee while), but it also involves some time of reflection, reviewing the week, and thinking about areas of Bible study, theology etc that I want to think through in the week ahead.

  • Going to church. To be honest, this can be a chore at times. But having recognised this, find a way to address it – find something positive and revel in that. Recently, we have started giving an older person a lift to church. Her faithfulness is an inspiration, and spending time with her is something positive in our church experience.

  • Most of all relax. Use the time available wisely for re-creation, for reflection, for friends and family. Do things that you enjoy, rather than things that you feel compelled to do.

When I was at university, the Student Counsellor advocated having one and a half days a week free from study. This would typically include Wednesday afternoon, when there were no lectures or tutorials, and many of us participated in sport – or other clubs. (In my case this included a group called the Malt-esers, which is a tale for another day!) Anyway, the counsellor’s advice struck me as being entirely sensible. Firstly, I didn’t need too much encouragement to stop studying. More importantly I recognised the value of some time to recharge the batteries, and although I haven’t always managed to heed the advice, it has always stayed with me.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Marriage Course

Over the past few weeks the Fishwife and I have been attending “The Marriage Course”. It was developed by Holy Trinity Brompton, and is along similar lines to the Alpha Course – filmed talkie bits on DVD, with slots for each couple to have private discussion about the topic. It was really good – at times a bit challenging, often funny and certainly plenty to think about.

The course was wonderfully hosted by the Hideous one and his much better half. Each week we started with a meal and then watched DVD etc. The format worked well, and it helped us get to know the other couples who were attending. By the way, the Neil Armstrong story is worth waiting for - even if it isn't true!

I would definitely recommend it for anyone. You don’t need to be having problems to benefit from the course. You don’t need to be recently married (we’ve been married for 19 years) to learn something and to benefit from it.

Only one things puzzles me – why was the DVD presented by Jan Leeming and Oz Clarke? (And another thing – why does Tony Blair do the voice on the Alpha Course?)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Bright field

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

~ R. S. Thomas ~

This poem (quoted by Stephen Cottrell) can be found in “Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds”, which is a fantastic wee anthology.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


“The boundaries between the different days of the week, the seasons of the year, and even, nowadays, between night and day, have been eroded. This brings a terrible loss. People are deprived of the rhythms and patterns that shape life. And with this, the pressure to be busy and productive increases. There is less time for family, less time for leisure, less time for re-creation, which is the purpose of living.”

- Stephen Cottrell

I was reading something today which defined wisdom as “evaluated understanding”. (I like that and may well return to it – wisdom being another hobby horse of mine.)

Applying this definition to the quotation from Stephen Cottrell – if we recognise (i.e. understand) the erosion of boundaries, then how are we evaluating it? Are we recognising the importance of family, leisure etc? And if we recognise it, what are we doing about it?

There is no wisdom in recognising a problem, unless you are prepared to act on it. (Aye, I know – physician heal thyself.)

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Funny (strange) wee book

The subtitle of this book is ‘Discovering what happens when you stop’, so I figured that it might help with my thinking about life’s rhythms and the dimension of Sabbath. And I liked the cover (shallow but true!).

I started to read it while sitting in Starbucks having a double espresso at the Metro Centre (for those not familiar with it - this is a monolithic shopping mall in north east England). The fishwife and Dolly D were shopping, and I was doing my own thing – not very patiently.

Anyway as I read the first chapter, I started to relax. In fact, I started to stop! Some of the comments seemed to be aimed directly at me:

"I have allowed busyness to invade my life so much that it gets harder and harder to be in touch with that other part of me which thrives on the creativity of indolent wastefulness."

"There was a restless impatience within me."

So with my mood lifted, I tucked the book away and carried on ambling around the shops, and watching what people were doing, having a chat with the shop assistant in the cookery shop etc etc. A good start.

However, the next few chapters were disappointing. They were an encouragement to become a Christian. No problem with that, except that there was no indication about this on the cover notes. It seemed a bit disingenuous. However, I persevered and things improved.

Modern life is crowded and cacophonous. Everywhere you turn there are more people shouting at you, demanding attention and wanting to consume your time. Drastic action is needed. So chuck out the instant coffee. It’s not just that it tastes horrible; I want back the time it robbed me of. The superficial attraction of its speed didn’t save me time; it just encouraged me to cram more in. What people need in their lives are things to slow them down. Labour-creating devices and time-wasting strategies are what I’m after. They will generate opportunities for stillness and reflection.

I particularly agree with the bit about the coffee! But more than that the essential message of the book is that we need to slow down, to take the time that we need to enjoy life AND to get in touch with our creative side and our Creator.

I’ll chuck in some more quotations over the next few entries.

Monday, 5 November 2007


Two thoughts colliding with my own thinking.

Firstly, Mark Sanborn's blog "What are we making space for?".

Followed by an article that I was reading "Meet the Life Hackers" by Clive Thompson, who quotes Merlin Mann

"We'd rather die than be bored for a few minutes, so we just surround ourselves with distractions."

Well, I've been thinking a lot about the importance of a proper Sabbath as the focal point of the week - creating space and balance and a time for no distractions. I need this space, and I need to establish it and protect it.

I've also just finished reading an intriguing wee book called "Do nothing to change your life" - actually I'm going to be a tease and keep that for tomorrow, or the next time that I get space to blog.