Monday, 31 December 2007

Confidence, competence and comfort zones - the prequel

Some further thoughts on the use of talents, and particularly in relation to the role of leaders. In all walks of life, it seems to me that one of the most important role that a leader can play is to spot and develop talents. I’m not simply referring to the concept of ‘succession planning’. Rather, I’m talking about maximising the contribution that every individual makes to the endeavour. Sometimes this is easy, as talent simply emerges in the ordinary activities. At other times, close attention and careful consideration is required to spot something in the behaviour or aptitudes that an individual shows and find an appropriate way to develop it.

Of course, the initial spotting is actually the most straightforward part. The developing and nurturing is harder – finding opportunities to use the talent; providing constructive feedback to hone it; stepping aside yourself to let the other person flourish. This can be very difficult, and it can take courage and a long-term perspective to embrace this approach.

Additionally, there is an even more difficult aspect. This is when someone thinks that they are particularly gifted in an area, but you think otherwise. You have to find a way to give a clear but tough message. As a leader you should be able to find a constructive alternative (otherwise why are they part of your set-up?), but it may take a lot of time and effort for such messages to be heard.

And finally, as a leader you should be doing this for everyone in your organisation. Your efforts shouldn’t only be focussed on the most gifted individuals, but on getting the most out of everyone. Much easier to say than to do!

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Competence, confidence and comfort zones - the sequel

A week ago – almost exactly at this time – I was just sitting down after the drama/sketch thing that I was involved in as part of the Bethlehem experience.

Two thoughts have occurred and recurred since then.

Firstly, all of us have talents that can be put to use – if we’re willing. Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to rush headlong into an acting career or anything. However, I do wonder if we are conscious of under-used (or unused) talents that we have. I also wonder if we are willing to discover new talents, and then put them to use. Maybe the New Year period is an appropriate time to reflect on our gifts, and see if there are any that could be gainfully employed.

Secondly, I have been truly astonished by the encouraging feedback that I have received from people. The ministry of encouragement is one that we can all be involved in. It doesn’t cost much to tell someone that we enjoyed/ benefited/ were moved or uplifted by something that they have done, but it will mean a lot to them. On reflection, I’m often guilty of assuming that people will know how well they’ve done, and have shied away from providing feedback. Time to change I think. Positive feedback should be used lavishly; negative feedback sparingly and constructively.

I don’t do ‘New Year resolutions’, but maybe this year I’ll make an exception and resolve to be more encouraging and appreciative of the efforts of others.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Thursday, 27 December 2007

What price democracy?

I’ve often wondered why the Western world is so keen to see democracy installed (or imposed?) across the world. Is it such a good thing?

There are inherent problems with voting systems. For example, hanging chads in the US; over 100,000 spoilt ballot papers in the most recent elections in Scotland; not to mention the intimidation and corruption that seems to characterise elections in many countries.

Earlier today I came across this quotation:

“The people are always said to know best. But the fact that democracies do not like sacrifices, do not listen to bad news nor wish to think about bad possibilities in the future, do not want their comfort or profits interfered with, should be accepted with apprehension, not complacence. Why is it evident that democracy and liberal values will prevail? The evidence is very limited, the historical experience with modern democracy brief, of a little more than two centuries. We do not know the future of democracy."
—William Pfaff, The Wrath of Nations: Civilizations and the Furies of Nationalism

My reaction was to think – “that’s a lot to get my head around, so maybe it’s best left alone for other to worry about!”

A few minutes later, I read the news of Benazir Bhutto’s murder and I realise that these are issues that affect us all. Admittedly, the impact of her assassination will not be felt directly by me, but in the nature of security threats (real or imagined) there will inevitably be a reaction for us all.

So is democracy worth dying for? Clearly Benazir Bhutto was fully aware of the risks that she faced, and some of her recent words seemed to echo the sentiments of Martin Luther King shortly before his death. For them, personal sacrifice was a price worth paying because their cause was so important to them.

There is more than a hint of the tradition of the Old Testament prophets in the actions of Benazir Bhutto – going to a place that she cared about, but where she would be in danger; speaking the truth whatever the consequences; trusting that good would come out of her actions. I don’t know what other motivations she may have had – I’m certainly not very familiar with the politics of Pakistan.

How should we respond? As Christians we should pray for Benazir and her family, and that the potential for turmoil and chaos in Pakistan is averted.

Maybe we need to think through how our ways of governing look to other people, and also to God. But most of all we should pray for a world where power corrupts and evil deeds are justified by those who should know better. However we’re governed, violent responses to opponents will always be wrong.

What does it mean when we say

“and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end”?

May Pakistan know peace in the days ahead.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Beyond the stained glass

Recently I’ve been posting photos from a stained glass window in a lovely wee church (St. Mary’s) in Wooler, Northumbria.

Several thoughts occur to me. Firstly, one of the original purposes of stained glass was to communicate key stories to congregations that were largely illiterate. The picture book approach made the stories meaningful and accessible. It strikes me that this is a key role for the church today – especially at times like Christmas when people are more likely to wander into a church.

Of course the danger is that we over-simplify the message, and in many ways this is the downside to the picture book approach. The images get lodged in our minds and the distortions that go along with that. For example, how many people firmly believe that there were three kings in the nativity story? Reality is – no number given, not kings! But the image persists.

The second thought is how do we, as Christians, remember the message of the stained glass window throughout the year? You know - Christ incarnate!

Sheilagh Kesting - the current Moderator of the Church of Scotland – speaking about the Christmas story said:

“It really does speak about justice and homelessness and the kind of world God wants us to live in, and the kind of people he wants us to be… We distort religion in so many ways, but it’s about a God of love, about a God who turns things upside down… That is what our faith is about and in lots of ways it’s disturbing because it unsettles people’s comforts.”

(The Herald magazine 22 Dec. 2007)

Have we moved beyond the stained glass windows?

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A child is born

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Competence, confidence and comfort zones

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of ours asked me to do something. Uncharacteristically I said “Yes”, almost without a thought. My normal approach would have been to buy some time to think it through, then I would have said “No”.

The request was to do a wee drama sketch in Perth Concert Hall at a Christmas celebration involving 6 churches.

Generally speaking I’m quite a confident person – but not in this case. It’s over 20 years since I’ve done any sort of drama, and in that time my memory has deteriorated (a lot).

So why did I agree to do it? I genuinely don’t know. I am not competent in this area, I’m certainly not confident, and I’m so far out of my comfort zone that I’ll get jet lag on the way back! I’ve been feeling pretty nervous for about a fortnight!

Anyway, the celebration was tonight – and it seemed to go well. I didn’t fluff any lines (that I’m aware of); and people were very kind in their reactions afterwards. Truth to tell, I really enjoyed it. The attendance was amazing - over 1200 packed into the Concert Hall, with 400 people turned away because it was full. (Only negative note for me - Fish Wife and Dolly D were among the 400, and not becasue they turned up late!)

Our only rehearsal in the venue was cut short, but most of my nerves seemed to vanish as I donned the costume. (I was the archangel Raphael in white boiler suit and hard hat!)

I was really encouraged by the young woman who was performing opposite me. Her role (and her own character) was based on infectious enthusiasm, which seemed to rub off on me.

Would I do it again? Well I wouldn’t say ‘No’ straightaway!

What have I learned?

- Firstly, I can remember things (although it’s not easy).
- Secondly, maybe I need to push out of my comfort zone occasionally.
- Thirdly, it was a useful reminder to me about how it feels to be a bit out of your depth.
- Fourthly, there are things that the middle-aged can learn from the young.
- Lastly, maybe I’m too old to learn some new tricks.

Christmas carbs - addendum

Following on from my last entry, I thought I'd refer you to the paperless advent calendar again - Day 23. Somehow the pictures and voice add a poignancy that my words can't match.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Christmas carbs (not a typo!)

Festivities in full swing now – we had our first family meal today at the in-laws. Over the next few days we’ll be doing a fair bit of travelling to see family. All of our journeys will be by car, so adding to our carbon consumption (first ‘carb’). I’m not trying to be a killjoy, and have no intention of reducing family visits to somehow salve my eco-conscience. But it’s still worth pausing for thought. During Lent 2008, Tearfund will be suggesting ways to reduce our emissions as part of a Carbon Fast, that might be a time to take action and change some of our ingrained habits.

In addition, the usual manic supermarket binge-shopping is upon us again. A quick walk round tonight looking for a few things made me think a wee bit about the air miles that our food clocks up. More pertinently, I heard a lunatic statistic yesterday that on average we put on 8lbs over the Christmas period through over-eating/ drinking (second carb – as in ‘carbohydrate’!) and under-exercising. Maybe there is a need for radical action here. A degree of self-restraint would eliminate the need for all those New Year resolutions about diets and exercise that will be broken anyway. And if the shopping bills are reduced, there are plenty of good causes working with hungry people around the world that could use the money!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Now it feels like Christmas

Two reasons for the mood change.

Firstly, I’m now on holiday.

Secondly, last night we were at Dolly Daydream’s school Christmas concert. It’s rapidly becoming a highlight of the year for us. It’s held in the wonderful setting of St. John’s Kirk in Perth, which reminds me that I really must take a proper look round it one day (I’ve only lived in Perth for 20 years or so!).

Anyway, last night was full of wonderful talent, devoid of cringeworthy moments and with mere shavings of cheese. Dolly was cello-ing with the string and full orchestras and singing with senior choir.

Other highlights included the swing band – so cool that they were hot; and a reading called “A modern Corinthian”. This was based on 1 Corinthians 13, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere on the weby-net thing. If anyone has a copy …

Putting parental pride aside, the thing that sticks in my mind was right at the end of the evening. Four boys/ young men sang two verses of Silent Night unaccompanied. It’s far from a favourite of mine, but on this occasion and with this performance it seemed to be the perfect ending. Very brave of them and very well done!

It’s Christmas!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The wonder of irony

On a lighter note than my last entry … I came across this snippet on the BBC website, and almost fell of my chair laughing.

Question - What did the Communist MEP Sahra Wagenknecht say when she was caught eating lobster?

Answer – “I’m fighting for a society in which everyone can afford to eat lobster.”

There must be dozens of slogans that could be used in such a campaign. For example:

"Crustaceans for common people"

"Prawns for the proletariat"

Fight the good fight comrade!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The teachable moment

It’s an interesting phrase, but at the moment it carries negative connotations for me.

Over the past few days there have been a flurry of stories about an aspect of Scottish culture. Not haggis, tartan and shortbread; not the “nearly success” of our football team - but the prevalence of violent attacks (often involving knives) associated with our tendency to binge drink. This is an unattractive aspect of our society.

The teachable moment comes in when nursing staff take the opportunity to highlight the dangers of excessive drinking to the victims of violence – sort of driving the point home. (Of course there’s also an increasing number of violent or aggressive incidents involving nurses in accident and emergency units!).

There is so much to love about Scotland, but also bits to be ashamed of. Will we ever learn? Do we need these teachable moments?

Will we as a society reflect on why our culture is so violent, even compared to that of our near neighbours, who share our delight in binge drinking?

The government is talking about a 10 year strategy. It’s good that they realise the difficulty in changing the ingrained behaviour patterns. Sadly for a lot of people 10 years will be too long – as they will face a lifetime of physical and mental scars – or worse.

Have a happy Christmas – but be sensible too!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Uncomfortable God

Following yesterday’s entry, I came across this prayer from the Iona Community.

The poor… the broken-hearted…
the prisoners… the mourners…
We can make it a reverent and irrelevant litany,
like counting cherry stones:
Tinker… tailor… soldier… sailor…
Rich man… poor man… beggar-man… thief…
what has this got to do with us God?
Sailors… children… merchants… pawnbrokers…
When will it come to us?
This year… next year… sometime… never…
Yet we remember that when Jesus read these words
he added ‘Today – here and now –
these words are coming true.’
Come true for us, uncomfortable God,
here and now!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A coming Christ in Advent #3

The highlight of this morning’s church service was the new song from Lins Honeyman.

"The splendour of Christ in a bed of straw
Almighty God in human form"

The contrasts contained in the song got me thinking a bit.

What does the Creator of everything want from us? What are we expected to create?

My mind flicked to the Magnificat and the picture expressed by Mary of the Kingdom of God. It’s essentially a kingdom of justice. Given that we are charged with carrying the good news through all the world, does this mean that we are called to bring the values of the kingdom into reality – to create a just world?

I think so – but I’m challenged about my role and where to start. Once again, I’m drawn to Morningside’s Just Christmas.

To create a just world – do something, do it now, do it with all of your creativity, and do it expectantly!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Little things annoy us

No - not children! Although ...

I'm thoroughly enjoying the paperless advent calendar from the Bishop of Kensington. However, today (Day 15) I spotted an error - a typo, a mis-spelling - and as I watched it again to check, this small error took on epic proportions for me. It leapt off the screen, in font size 3-billion.

I'm not a skilled proof-reader (don't have the patience), but these things can bother me. Especially in formal documents.

Don't people use spell checkers? Do they ever read the words that they've written before issuing their material? Do they care?

And don't get me started on apostrophes!

And yes I am aware of various typos that appear in this blog from time to time. I'm not perfect, just crabbit!

Do we all have these little things that distract/annoy us?

Sometimes - for me - the good quality of the material means that I can overcome my irritation - for example, I still think that the paperless advent calendar is cool! But at other times my irritation leads to an irrational prejudice or at least bias against the article.

It's a disappointing character trait, but it's who I am.

Feel free to point out grammatical errors in this entry - that's not a strong point of mine.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Friday photo- Magi from the East

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Rest and be thankful

When wondering what to blog about, four words popped into my head :"Rest and be thankful". This is the name of a place on a road in Scotland. It's a very long time since I've been there - but it's a point at the top of a long climb up a slope, and so the name is self-explanatory.

So why blog about it? Maybe it reflects my mood after a tough couple of days and a tough workout at the gym. Maybe it's a good thought to reflect on during Advent and the Christmas period. Maybe it's a thought to cling to if family tensions or emotions run high in the coming days. Maybe it's just something that we should all do a bit more often.

I really don't know - but I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to 'rest and be thankful'!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Dreams come true - a parable

Question - What do you do if you're a talented Aussie cricketer unable to train with your team as a result of disciplinary action?

Answer - You make your international debut!

In a "Roy of the Rovers" tale, Luke Pomersbach turned up to watch a cricket match as a paying spectator, and was parking his car when the Aussie manager phoned and asked him to play for his country. One of the team was injured (putting on his trousers!) and Luke was called up. I loved this story when I heard it first of all - in an interview he seemed totally gob-smacked and nervously excited. Later on I discovered why he was available on the day - and I liked his reaction:

"I've made a couple of bad decisions and I just want to play cricket," he said.
"I am so glad I have had a little taste at this level and it is the best day of my life."

By the way, he did play quite well (though he didn't score the winning goal - unlike Roy).

Driving around today (a lot), I was thinking about this and how it could be turned into a parable. It has lots of ingredients and several endings. Care to make a suggestion?

And when did Roy of the Rovers get a website?

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Through the eyes of others

During advent I’ve stumbled a couple of things that have made me stop and wonder how Advent (and by extension Christianity) must look from different perspectives.

First of all was the paperless advent calendar, which I love and am finding very helpful as a way of thinking through Advent (double entendre intended!). I particularly liked day 4.

I also came across the art work of He Qi – a Chinese Christian artist. I find these images simple, striking and challenging.

My conclusion? We have become anaesthetised by our cultural assumptions – at this time, particularly in relation to Advent and the Christmas story. Our imagery tends to revolve around children’s nativity plays rather than thought through and engaging our imaginations.

Years ago I read and quoted regularly from a wonderful wee book that I was given – “The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname”. Solentiname is a fishing village in Nicaragua, and the book is based on a series of Bible study discussions involving the villagers. They see the gospel story from a completely different perspective, probably more in keeping with Mary and Joseph than with me.

Maybe we need to look at things from a different cultural perspective to be able to make sense of how to engage with our own culture.

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”
Bertrand Russell

Monday, 10 December 2007

A coming Christ in Advent #2 addendum

I came across an article by Charles Colson which seems to resonate with some of my ramblings of yesterday. A few quotations, but it’d probably be better to read the whole article!

“Sometimes I think Jesus' announcement of the liberation of the Jewish people and the coming of God's kingdom is as misunderstood today as it was by the Jews of his time. Christ was bringing in the reign of God on earth; first, through his own ministry, and then by establishing a peaceful occupying force - his church - which would carry on God's redeeming work until Christ's return in power and glory and the kingdom's final triumph.”

“Preoccupied with self and distracted by affluence, many Christians try to confine the gospel to a superior form of therapy; they fail to see it as a cosmic plan of redemption in which they, as fallen creatures, are directly involved.”

“Christianity won't rise or fall on whether Wal-Mart employees can say "Merry Christmas." But its future does depend, in part, on how God's people advance God's kingdom, as we help establish his peaceful rule in the present historical moment, until Christ reigns in all his glory.”

Sunday, 9 December 2007

A coming Christ in Advent #2

"Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge."

Abraham Joshua Heschel

How do we apply this in Advent? Well, the wisest man that I know was preaching in our church tonight, and he said something along the following lines (my shorthand couldn't keep up, but it's true to the spirit of what was said):

If a secular society wants to turn Advent into a spending spree or festival of light in midwinter, that's their choice. And we join in. But we are called to affirm the wonder and mystery of Advent.

I was reflecting on these two thoughts and thinking that the church, and individual Christians, need to stop being negative about consumerism gone mad in Advent, and start being positive about the story of Christmas. By all means enjoy the season, but make sure that you spend time in reflection, wonder and prayer. Also, share the good news with others.

Then I came across a news story about John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. To avoid any doubt, I absolutely support his actions. His action - visual in its appeal and prophetic in its message - strikes me as an appropriate way for a Christian (whether leader or not) to express negative feeligns about something. In other words, when we choose to convey a message of opposition, make sure that the issue concerned is sufficiently important, and that the message is clear.

Wasn't a significant part of Christ's message about supporitng the poor and oppressed, rather than sooking up tae the high heid yins?

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Through all the Advents of our life

Through all the Advents of our life, we shall wait and look forward with longing for that day of the Lord, when God says, "I am making everything new!"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Yesterday I had an unexpected wonderful experience, which seemed to chime with the Bonhoeffer quotation.

At work I normally avoid what I call the ‘figurehead’ role – you know those events that you get invited to where you have to flash the smile, press the flesh and make small talk to strangers. Not exactly a comfortable environment for me.

Anyway, we are involved in a health and social care academy. I was involved in the original idea and planning, but true to form ducked out when real people got involved. The academy is really a short course to provide people who are out of the mainstream employment market with some basic skills that will help them apply for jobs in health and social care. Often the participants will be people who have had health problems (including mental health), women returning to the labour market after child care responsibilities but with no relevant skills.

Because someone else was on holiday, I was asked to represent the department at the graduation for the current group. Then I was asked if I would say a few words, and oh, would I present the certificates as well. I agreed, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. I don’t have any problem with the public speaking side (although ‘a few words’ turned out to be a 10 minute slot!); but small talk …

Before the ceremony I was chatting (mainly listening) to some of the college staff who commented on the increase in confidence in the participants over the six weeks of the course. After the ceremony – as I started to relax a bit- talking to the candidates it was clear that this was a really big deal for them. They were enthusiastic, but clearly with underlying concerns and apprehensions. They wanted to know about job opportunities, and could they volunteer, and who should they contact etc etc.

After the photo session, one of the women said “This has been a great day!” As she said this I realised that I had been looking at this event from the wrong perspective – to my shame. It was a bit of an inconvenience to me; for the course participants it was ‘making everything new’.

Well, as I drove home I realised that it was a new start for me to – time to press the flesh a bit more and appreciate that what can seem like a wee thing to me can be a major event for someone else. What was David Adam saying about Mirror Images?

This was a great day!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Friday photo - while shepherds watched ...

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Black holes and pulsars

This is the title of one of the chapters in David Adam's 'Mirror Images' - probably my favourite chapter. It also lets me use one of the fantastic images from the Hubble website!

For the non-physicists (including me) black holes absorb energy, pulsars are stars that emit light. (If I've got any of this wrong let me know.)

"‘There is enough ‘gravitas’ in the Church without me adding to it. We need a bit more levity and the ability to laugh. If we cannot laugh at what we are doing then life has become serious indeed. Christians that are miserable about the world or life do our faith and our God a great injustice."

Challenging? It certainly seems to me that I/we take ourselves far too seriously most of the time. So what are we going to do about it?

Well, David Adam has a couple of suggestions:

"We need to make God at home in our homes and to let God be at work in our work. God is not concerned only with religion but with all of life."

"Promise to make room in your life for God. Accept his invitation to come into his presence. Write it in your diary. Make space each day to rejoice in his presence and to relax into the light, the love and peace of God."

I have a suggestion of my own - read his book, it's really worth it!

Final word from David Adam (for a wee while):

"Does your life mirror the love and the light of God?"

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Mirror Images #1

"In Mirror Images I want to look at people and how they reflect certain attitudes we have to life: how various individuals show characteristics that we all have a tendency to have. In our meeting with other people we often see images of our own reactions and attitudes. Sometimes this is a clear image and it helps us to see ourselves more clearly. Sometimes it is a distorted image that reaches down into our deepest fears. Then at other times we see a bright image that gives us for a moment a glimpse of the glory that is ours."

This is David Adam's stated intention in this book. He tells us about a birdwatcher and his love for creation; a young woman renewed through falling in love; a man who gave a simple but important service to God; an artist dealing with the desolation of a broken friednship ... But the stories in themselves don't matter - the point is what they tell us about ourselves and our relationship with God. So a couple of quotations - 'ouch' moments for me.

"We should remember that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. God is not to be found only in church or in the study of books."

"We all need to discover on our journey through this world that the God whom we seek presents himself to us at every moment."

"The danger in some forms of religion is that they can be used as a protection from any real encounter with God."
I might unpack some of these in the coming weeks - if I can dare to look in the mirror again!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The one that (nearly) got away

I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book – and I nearly didn’t buy it!

A few months ago (April actually!) I wandered into a bookshop – just for a wee change. I spotted a book by a guy called David Adam. I’ve read several of his books of prayers in the Celtic tradition, and I return to them frequently. So I picked the book up, opened it and to my great disappointment it wasn’t a book of prayers. Without further thought I put it down again and left the shop empty-handed. In itself this was unusual for me.

(I find that bookshops and garden centres are the only places where I can understand the mind of a compulsive shopper – i.e. I rarely leave either without buying at least one book/ plant.)

Anyway I wandered around a bit, went to an art gallery (The Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle – worth a visit, and they do some reasonably priced lunches) but then found myself drawn back to the bookshop and the David Adam book. I bought it without even thinking about it. I’m really glad that I did. It’s the best book that I’ve read this year (so far).

Of course, if I’d opened the book and read the preface to the introduction, I’d definitely have bought it. It’s a quotation from Clare of Assisi:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead itself through contemplation

It’s called ‘Mirror Images – Seeing ourselves in other people’. It’s a collection of stories drawn from David Adam’s pastoral work over many years. At times it’s touching, at other times it touches a raw nerve as the mirror is held against your face. The stories aren't all happy endings - real life isn't like that, and Adam is certainly dealing with real life. This is a book to reflect on (pun intended!). It is insightful, uplifting and encouraging. I’ll fill in more details over the next couple of days.

The moral of this tale? Don’t judge a book by its content!

By the way, today’s paperless Christmas entry is great (thanks THM!)

Monday, 3 December 2007

Values, teddy bears and a pound of flesh

I was originally going to call this entry “Hypocrisy, teddy bears and a pound of flesh” – but that would be judgmental (not good!), so I’ve amended the title.

Now that Gillian Gibbons is safely heading back to the UK, I thought that it was safe to blog about this. (The last sentence started its life as a joke, but as I type it I wonder…)

Anyway, Gillian’s story can be found over at the good old BBC. There was outrage in the UK, including from the Muslim Council of Britain; and there was some (limited as far as I know) protest in Sudan that the sentence was too lenient.

What judgments did we make? Did we wonder why a teacher wasn’t aware of the potential offence in a culture that she had entered? Did we think in terms of ‘fundamentalists’?

Next story – Wendy Alexander has apparently received illegal contributions to her leadership campaign (see BBC again). One aspect that really puzzles me – why do you need a fund to fight an uncontested election? Surely you just turn up on the day, vote for yourself without spoiling the ballot paper, and you’re in! Anyway, the donation was from someone not on the UK electoral roll and was, intriguingly, for slightly less than the amount where donations have to be made more public.

What judgments did we make?
Political sleaze?
Cannae run a raffle, never mind the country?
“Off with her head!”

Anyone spotted the connection yet?

I’m quite fond of quoting Burns, especially:

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

Also, something about specks and beams.
One final question about these two cases – who clyped?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

A coming Christ in Advent #1

The title of this post is also the title of a fascinating wee book by Raymond E Brown that I'm planning to re-read this Advent. Aspects of this might feature in future entries.

For today... mainly questions.

Amongst the many themes for Advent are realisation and hope; the hope of realisation; and the realisation of hope. What does this mean for Christianity in 2007?

Can we focus on Christ as well as Christmas?

Can we focus on needs in our world as well as on our own 'wants'?

Can we reflect the joy of the season, while reflecting on the magnitude of the message?

Can we bring light into the glitter of December?

Can we bring hope amongst the shopping lists?

Can we realise our blessed-ness and bring the hope of Christ into our world?

Saturday, 1 December 2007

AIDS and advent - sinful absence and puny efforts

What’s the connection between World AIDS day and the start of advent?

It’s not a riddle – but could the answer be realisation and hope?

I’d like to point out 4 articles for you to consider:

1 - Tearfund’s December reflection
2 - Reuters’ article about Kay Warren
3 -
BBC article on World Aids day – including George Bush’s attempts to double funding for combating the disease
4 -
British Red Cross campaign to raise awareness and understanding

Contrast the “sinful absence and puny efforts” that Kay Warren talks about with the joyous, hope-filled presence of advent and the supreme efforts that Christ made for us.