Monday, 31 March 2008

Where's the rewind button?

I spent a chunk of today trying to help out in a difficult family situation and seem to have managed to make things worse!

With the benefit of hindsight, I made the cardinal error of taking my standards and thought processes into a situation, believing confidently that this would help make everything better. Wrong! I'm sure there's a word for it. I remember it's - STOOPID!! (Actually there are lots of other words too, but I'm not a great believer in beating myself up.)

You know the old cliche about breaking eggs to make an omelette? Well, I'm pretty sure that the intention is for the liquid egg to end up in a receptacle - not on the floor, walls, ceiling and your own face!

I've learned a painful lesson. But there's no rewind button for life, so I need to focus on what to do next - with a bit more thought and careful preparation.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

... in the light of Easter

o dance and sing
To exude and exalt
To reflect in wonder
To go with hope
And walk without fear.
To glow with grace and peace
And feel fully human -
Rejoicing in the light of Easter

To seek and serve
To connect and join
To be confident and calm
To involve and engage
And love instinctively.
To flow where the Spirit takes you
And not be overwhelmed -
Living in the light of Easter
(Inspired by a comment from Lucy and a bunch of talented, enthusiastic young musicians.)

Friday, 28 March 2008

Friday photo: Every cloud ...

... has a red-edged lining!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

(Note to self: remember to breathe!)

Tuesday afternoon - it must be our weekly senior management team, and the chance to bond together and share our difficulties with each other - not!

I found myself writing at the top of the agenda - not doodling, but writing instructions to myself!


The wicked witch of the east is mis-managing yet another project, and finding scapegoats by the truckload. As I sat there fuming and restraining myself, I realised that it really wasn't worth the self-inflicted stress. So I thought about breathing for a wee while, calmed down and turned back into my normal well-balanced, cool, witty, dashing and modest self (well, something like that!).

I think it was Oscar Wilde who refused to enter a battle of wits with an unarmed man - kind of sums up how I felt.

Anyway, having calmed down a bit I survived the rest of the meeting.
It was absolutely freezing when I stepped out of the office - and my coat was in the car about 150 yards away. But as I walked towards the car, I didn't notice the cold because I was distracted by the wonderful view of Arbroath Abbey. Puts things in perspective I think!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Why celebrate Easter?

OK - the question's a wee bit misleading. What I really mean is why celebrate Easter in a special way, on a date determined by the moon and the vernal equinox? I remember having a conversation with one of our deacons several years ago, when we discussed the merits of any 'special' days in the ecclesiastical calendar. After all, we should live each day in the light of Easter ...

I suppose there's a cultural element of Calvinstic suspicion of high days and holy days behind this thought process!

Having said that, I do believe that we should celebrate Easter in a special way. In part because it's one of those occasions when people attend church who wouldn't ordinarily cross the threshold. So it's an oppor-chance-ity for them to hear about Jesus.

But I think there's a more important reason. I think that it's a chance for Christians to reflect on the theological significance of Jesus' death and resurrection. Now I know that talking of theology puts some people off, but there are ways to do this without over-complicating things.

I was listening to a podcast recently featuring the late Jaroslav Pelikan talking about the
Need for Creeds. Pelikan has studied Christian creeds in depth - and despite my Calvinistic suspicion of creeds (anyone spotting a recurring theme?), I think that there is great value in using creeds to communicate longstanding beliefs.

Two things stood out for me in the Pelikan podcast:

1 - He spoke of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (used in the Greek Orthodox church), where the congregation say, "Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess the Holy Trinity one in essence and undivided." In other words, the creeds exist within the context of love - God's love for us and our relationships in a loving community.

2 - He also said that one of his favourite creeds is the
Maasai creed. I'd never heard this before, but I think that it's absolutely wonderful!
"... always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love"
Easter is for creeds? Any thoughts?

Sunday, 23 March 2008


Christian spirituality isn't a matter of life and death. It's a matter of death and life.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

wonder in the garden

We had a dusting of snow last night (Good Friday), but when I got up this morning the sun was shining brightly in a clear blue sky.

The Fish Wife commented on the snow lying on some daffodils outside our bedroom window - so I went out for a closer look - camera in hand.

There was a poignancy and beauty about these seemingly fragile flowers, bowed down by the weight of the snow yet striving to turn their faces up towards the spring sunshine.

It seemed to me that they captured the mood of Easter Saturday - bowed down by the enormity of Christ's suffering on the cross, yet looking forward to Sunday and resurrection.

I think that nature always expresses itself more eloquently than my words - so let the pictures do the talking.

"In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your heart."
- Blaise Pascal

Friday, 21 March 2008

Friday photo: Flowers for Easter

Pasque flower (pulsatilla vulgaris)

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Time for reflection

Every week in oor wee Parliament, the business begins with 'Time for Reflection'. A speaker is invited to give the parliamentarians something to think about, and until yesterday it has always been a religious/ spiritual worthy who has been invited to fill this slot.

Yesterday the speaker was the erstwhile MP Tony Benn. I've always admired Tony Benn (much more than the other former Labour MP 'TB'!) Benn strikes me as a man of principle, and while I don't always agree with what he says, he seems to speak from a sense of conviction. You can find his talk
here. I was intrigued to find that he has connections with Irvine (where my dad was born, and I was brought up).

I liked the conclusion to his talk yesterday:

"We live at a time in history when the power of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to destroy the human race is as never before, yet it is also a time when we have the resources, the technology, the know-how and the money to solve the problems of the human race. That is the most important choice that humanity has ever had to make, and it raises fundamental moral questions. If we are to make the right decisions, we would do well, I believe, to listen to the prophets, rather than the kings."

This was a good message to give our current crop of politicians - and the rest of us!

I wish we had more politicians like Tony Benn - sadly we don't.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Van's blessing

Today is watercooler day over at Ethos (thanks to Camel Crossing for the link). I don't usually join in with these kind of things, and I didn't answer the question about music - but I thought that this fitted the general idea of Arts/Culture ... (I have commented before about my occasional difficulties with rules and conformity!)

As I was reading the Ethos post, I was listening to a
Van Morrison concert recorded for Radio 2's music club - it's fantastic. I love the way that he takes familiar songs, gives them a new twist, and turns them into something even more magical - just listen to 'Have I told you lately' and you'll see what I mean.

It seemed to be something worth talking about at the watercooler.

At the start of the concert, Johnny Walker quotes Van Morrison:

"There's always tunes and words going on in my head. I don't know if it's a curse or it's a blessing."

Listen to the recording (I don't know how long it'll be there - so do it soon!) and make up your own mind.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Pontius Pilate - moi??

I started watching the BBC drama "The Passion" on Sunday night. I missed last night's episode, but will catch up with it later in the week.

One of the things that struck me was that Pilate was different from how I'd imagined him. This reminded me of last year's Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book. "Power & Passion" by Samuel Wells was very good. He looked at various characters from the Passion stories - including Pilate.

The chapter on Pilate ends with this paragraph:

"Does Jesus stretch our imaginations? Do we allow him to challenge our instrumental notions of truth? Do we take the risk of letting him dismantle the deftly prepared PowerPoint presentations that tell us how to make our companies, organizations, or families richer, safer, fitter, stronger? Does it suddenly begin to strike us that we are Pilate in this story, saying to Jesus, "Don't distrub my carefully ordered world. Don't look at me like that. I'm not powerful. I'm not a manipulator. I'm not a person who finds it best to avoid asking why. I'm not. I'm not. I'm not.... Am I?"

Something to think over this Holy Week.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Mind the gap

For a wee while now this phrase has been something of a mantra for me. As part of my attempt to develop daily discipline and improve what is known as "time management", I've been conscious of the gaps that occur during the day (both at work and at home) - e.g. time between meetings. Productivity is improved if the gaps are used wisely.

Something else that I've been contemplating for a while are triggers - little signals that indicate all is not well-ordered in my world. One of these is that my pile of reading material is growing ever larger. Strangely I don't mind this happening at home, but at work it's a warning sign.

Anyway, a while back I came across some research on the
BBC website which stated the following:

... a study in Holland had suggested that the more people's days were fragmented, the more they read, regardless of their educational background.

"Which is completely counter-intuitive but I don't see anything to contradict it."

Another study he had conducted had indicated that people felt they did not have enough time in their days.

Certain activities were almost fixed - like going to work, picking the kids up from school then taking them to ballet lessons - and required them to co-ordinate with others.

Inevitably there were sometimes breaks when the co-ordination was not precise.

"What I'm arguing is that over the last 30 to 40 years the organisation of time has become fragmented, less predictable - someone is late, or you arrive early and are waiting for the kids to come out of school.

"Those moments are good for reading."

Put the two thoughts together and progress is made - fill the gaps by reading some of the backlog.

That Hideous Man has a similar but different thought process going on...

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Palm Sunday and rugby

alm Sunday and rugby – what’s the connection?

Well… crowds!

This morning in church we were reminded of the crowds that would have been making their way up to Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus. Since donkeys were a common enough form of transport, what made Jesus stand out? How could anyone even notice him in the crush of tourist, worshippers, flag sellers and ticket touts?

My mind (working in it’s usual bizarre way) jumped to a memorable experience from my formative years. In 1975, as a 13 year-old, I went to see Scotland playing Wales with a group from my school. Our bus was parked next to a Welsh rugby club’s vehicle – and these big boyos adopted us as a group and walked towards the ground with us.

As we got closer it became clear that there was a bit of a problem. It turned out that a world record crowd had turned up to see this match – officially 104,000 people made it inside the ground. In those days you entered Murrayfield through a big tunnel – and there was a real danger that skinny kids like me would get completely crushed.

Our new found Welsh mates made sure that we were OK. I had one on each side of me as we entered the tunnel, they each grabbed me by the elbow and lifted me. My feet didn’t touch the ground until they could deposit me safely at the schoolboy seats.

Since then I’ve always had a soft spot for the Welsh. Aye, their singing is good, they’ve produced some fantastic rugby players, and they share our Celtic antipathy for the English, but mainly my fondness is due to the memory of 1975.

So congratulations to them on achieving the Grand Slam –and it gives me an excuse to post more photos of daffodils!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Friday photo: Harbour wall

Taken today on a beautiful, crisp, clear, spring morning in Arbroath.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

A Scottish lament written by a Jewish guy from the Bronx

His Girl Friday has posted a beautiful song over at Wellied on Life.

The Ashokan Farewell has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it on Classic FM a few years ago. In fact, I've voted for it in the Hall of Fame every year since. There's a poignant Scottish feeling about it, which I adore and which usually brings a lump to my throat and a wee tear to the corner of my eye.

I hadn't really thought too much about the background to the song until tonight. In fact until tonight I hadn't really thought of it as a song - just a wonderful piece of music. Anyhow, as I was listening to it, I looked up the lyrics on the inter-webby-net, and I thought that they were reminiscent of some of Burns' love songs.

Then I found Jay Ungar's (the composer) website, which includes his story of the song. I'm amazed by this extract:

"By the time the tune took form, I was in tears. I kept it to myself for months, unable to fully understand the emotions that welled up whenever I played it. I had no idea that this simple tune could effect others in the same way."

The story is lovely, and so is the music. Good for the soul at the end of a working day!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Eloquent cocoons #2

As I munched on my sandwich at lunchtime today, I was reading "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller, and came across the quotation below. It seemed to be an apt follow on from yesterday's entry - in more ways than one! The background is that Miller has gone to hear an author give a book reading.

"I wish I were the sort of person who liked everybody and everything. I have friends who can listen to any song, watch any movie, or read any book, and they think everything is just great. I truly envy people who can do that. I say all of this because, as the author finally started reading from his new book, I didn't like it at all. I fought my critical nature but couldn't help but compare his new stuff to the genius of his previous work. His words were vaporous and cliche, trendy and full of sales pitch. They weren't his words, they were words that sell, words that tickle ears and reach a specified demographic."

For Boris

This one's for Boris - almost certainly the youngest person to comment on my blog, and probably the most perceptive (see comment on These young people should be headline news)!

How cool is that!

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Living in eloquent cocoons

A few weeks ago I was pointed in the direction of an article from the Wall Street Journal. Peggy Noonan was writing about the eloquence of Barack Obama – or rather the lack of it as she defines it.

On this side of the Atlantic, we’re mercifully spared blanket coverage of the Presidential nomination process – although it is impinging a lot more than it used to!

I’m not in a position to draw any conclusion about Barack Obama, but Noonan’s comments triggered two lines of thought that I have been mulling over.

Firstly, she comments on eloquence:

“Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With Mr Obama the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments… He doesn’t unpack his thoughts… He asserts and keeps on walking.”

It seems to me that this is true in many walks of life – but with particular reference to a lot of preaching. Speeches are prepared, words are organised sometimes elegantly, even poetically – but the thoughts expressed are well-worn hand-me-downs.

To unpack thoughts requires the discipline of application, the balanced consideration of points of view that are outwith the norm of the preacher. Maybe, we’ve focussed too much on the presentation at the expense of thinking?

The second thought from Noonan’s article is based on her analysis of the Obamas’ (Mr & Mrs) understanding of America:

“Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised – so raised in the liberal cocoon – that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?”

Are we in the churches guilty of something very similar?

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Pathways of prayer: The charismatic path

This week Pathways of Prayer moves on to the charismatic path.

Actually, that's not quite true. I seem to have got out of sync with the course. But that's OK, as I'm planning to keep going with the cycle of pathways beyond Lent.

So this week, I'm moving on to the charismatic path. But the word 'charismatic' seems to carry so many connotations/values, that I'm calling it the pathway of worship. (I've never been too great at following all of the rules all of the time!).

This pathway is summarised by St Augustine's prayer:

Lord you are great and greatly to be praised!
awaken us to delight in your praises,
for you made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
'till they find their rest in you.

The doodle had now reached its final state.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Ya beauty-y-y-y!!!!!

How good was that?

Awesome or what?

Passionate and gutsy - aye, we expect that!

Clever tactics, clinically executed - that's new, but very welcome.

In case you haven't guessed I'm talking about today's rugby:

Scotland 15 - England 9


I'm going to lie down somewhere now to calm down a bit.

The challenge of maintaining momentum

In many ways this epitomised my week... then I came across this -

"I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
Pablo Picasso

So I will start the new week with renewed hope and an image to cling on to.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Friday photo: Patterns of ebb and flow

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The magic of an inconvenient moment

Sometimes we're so busy rushing around that we fail to notice what is going on around us.

On Tuesday night as I was driving home from work, I was stopped at a set of temporary traffic lights. My initial reaction was one of mild irritation - I wanted to get home not sit here in the middle of nowhere. Then I looked around me and saw the sun setting behind some trees. For once I had my camera handy, so took a couple of snaps. They weren't great, but they give a flavour of what was happening. I'm not sure what the other drivers were thinking as I poked the lens out of the window!

The rest of my journey was calmer, as I considered how lucky I was to have been stopped at that set of temporary traffic lights.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Abandoned book

I’m not sure if it’s a first for me, but it hasn’t happened for a long time. This week I abandoned a book half way through it. I used to feel compelled to finish every book that I started – however long it took. But a while back I read a blog entry by Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing. His time-saving tips includes this one:

Cultivate the habit of non-finishing. Not every project you start is worth finishing. Sometimes we get into it and realize, “This is a waste of time.” Fine, then give yourself permission to quit.

I do this all the time with reading. It’s why I am able to read so many articles and books. Here’s publishing’s dirty little secret: most books are not worth finishing. Most books could be cut in half and you wouldn’t miss a thing. The key is to read as long as you are interested and then stop. There are too many great books to read without getting bogged down in the merely good ones.

This obviously stuck in the space between my ears (I have actually adopted a few of his tips).

I was slogging my way through “Life conquers death” by John Arnold, and was not enjoying it – so I bit the bullet and followed Michael Hyatt’s tip. Life conquers death is now in the pile of books waiting to be filed away (although I’m not sure why I’m keeping it).

There were two good things directly from this book. Firstly it prompted me to dig out “The Oak and the Calf” by Solzhenitsyn, which is now in my ‘I must get around to (re)reading that’ pile. Secondly, Arnold quotes a Russian saying - “All drowns in Pharisaism”

This is worthy of further reflection.

Apart from a feeling of release, the biggest bonus from dumping this book, was the opening words of the one that I picked up in its place.

“I once listened to an Indian on television say that God was in the wind and the water, and I wondered how beautiful that was because it meant you could swim in Him or have Him brush your face in a breeze.”
(Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller)

This fits perfectly with the contemplative pathway of prayer that I’m exploring just now. I’m already loving this book.

Abandoning was a good choice.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

These young people should be headline news

I've copied the title for this blog from Random Mum. I spent a large chunk of yesterday at the same event and was blown away by the talent, energy and commitment of the young people and their instrumental tutors etc.

There were several highlights:

As a proud dad watching Dolly D playing with two orchestras, and winning the string orchestra competition against the local rival school - for the gazillionth year in a row!

Hearing Perth Youth Orchestra playing to near professional standards - you should see them if you get the chance. I would have paid proper money to hear them. (Yesterday cost me £4.00 for over 4 hours of entertainment!)

Perth Academy Swing Band - playing the music that my dad loves, but more importantly and impressively the group is led and directed by one of the pupils. Amazing - he plays sax with the swing band and is the lead clarinetist with PYO!

A fantastic, uplifting day thanks to a huge number (literally hundreds) of young people, who we can rightly be proud of.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The contemplative path

This week Pathways of Prayer moves on to the contemplative path.

"The contemplative tradition in Christian spirituality describes the steady gaze of the soul upon God."

So that's the objective for this week. It'll be intriguing to see how this develops during what passes for 'normal life'. Will I be able to focus sufficiently during the working week?

I'm comforted (again) by the bit of Heschel that I was reading today:

"God is not hiding in a temple."

So maybe I will be able to contemplate while at work.

Doodle's moved on a bit more.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

February Gold - in February!!

I've commented before that my favourite daffodil is called "February Gold", but it never flowers in February. Well this year it did - thanks to the leap year! When I got home from work yesterday, there was one flower in bloom. It's still a wee bit shy, but it's out. A cheery sight at the end of a tough old week at work.

Nice of it to burst forth in time for St David's Day!

"Life is a succession of moments, To live each one is to succeed."
- Corita Kent