Sunday, 18 April 2010

Change of venue

I'm now blogging on Wordpress - at least for a while.  For a few weeks I've been running both, but that's not a sensible or viable long-term approach.  So from now on, you can find my ramblings at:

I hope this doesn't cause inconvenience for those who pass this way from time to time.

Monday, 12 April 2010


Two visits to Perth Concert Hall over the past few days have really inspired me.  During the first visit, I had a quick look at some of the images on display as part of the Perthshire Photographic Society exhibition.  (Note to self - go back for a longer look.)

I was entranced by Jean Burhouse’s montage of Perth buildings - and I spent a chunk of this morning snapping away - I might post some of my efforts later.

The second visit was last night to see the magnificent Perth Youth Orchestra annual concert.  I was blown away by some of the performances, but what made my night was the huge smile from daughter-child as the orchestra stood in response to the rapturous applause at the end.  A moment of magic!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Fun in the sun

Ross County 2 - Celtic 0
The wee team triumph! Fantastic.

Not only did they win the game, they were the better team. The first division minnows outplayed the Premier giants.

And... this wasn’t a midweek replay on a sodden pitch at a tiny football ground - it was a showpiece semi-final at the national stadium, in bright sunshine. Big stage, big occasion, huge performance by County.

I should note that I’m not a Ross County fan, but I do like to see the underdog come out on top - and this was an epic tale of the underdog. A cup shock that will become a legend.

So what was the difference between the two teams? For me, the key to County’s success was having fun. They seemed to enjoy the occasion, and played with a freedom that created confidence. By contrast, Celtic seemed to be playing with the fear of failure.

I also see this scenario being played out at work. Those who are afraid to make a mistake, whose goal is compliance with the rules and minimum expectations rarely (actually, never) flourish. Those who take a few risks, follow their instincts and enjoy what they’re doing seem to generate much more productivity. Aye, it also applies to me - I get much more achieved, and much more satisfaction when I have fun, use my creativity and flair, and challenge a few norms along the way; than when I fall into the despair of box ticking and paper pushing. So next time that I’m in that pit, I’ll remind myself of Ross County, and (hopefully) put a smile on my face and some freedom into my work.

(By the way, I’m looking forward to an all first division final. So tomorrow I’ll be cheering for Raith Rovers - and I don’t support them either!)

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter images: Revealing

The Supper at Emmaus

Easter images: Rising

The Crucified and Risen Christ
Lyn Constable Maxwell

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Easter images: Puzzling

St Martin-in-the-fields
Trafalgar Square, London

Friday, 2 April 2010

Easter images: Suffering

Wine Crucifix
Arnulf Rainer

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Easter images: Breaking bread

Communion sculpture by Stephen Cox
Newcastle Cathedral

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Easter images: Casting shadows

Thirty pieces of silver
Cornelia Parker

Living intentionally: ... edging closer?

... or adding more stuff to sift later?
It’s not worth getting out of bed unless you are determined to alter some small corner of the world.
 Tom Peters

Thoughts like this do help me get up in the morning - even when we’re in the middle of a blizzard at the end of March!!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Living Intentionally: towards a definition?

I came across this quotation yesterday:
Your capacity to change yourself, change others, and even change the world, may boil down to how well you know your brain, and your capacity to consciously intervene in otherwise automatic processes.
Dr David Rock
Your Brain at Work

The last section about ‘consciously intervening in otherwise automatic processes’ seems to go a long way to defining what I mean by living intentionally. To live intentionally is to be aware of what you’re doing; how you’re using your time and other resources; not drifting un-thinkingly into auto-pilot. It doesn’t necessarily mean that processes can’t be automated, but we need to be clear about our purpose, productivity and effectiveness in what we do and how we do it.

Intriguingly, Rock’s research indicates that ‘improving cognitive control’ happens when we slow down and allow the brain to idle. This seems counter-intuitive within the context of intentionality, but maybe it’s exactly what we/I need to develop to allow the thought processes to develop more naturally.

Now I need to slow down and let this permeate my rock-like brain (pun intended!).

Monday, 29 March 2010

Challenging assumptions...

... or seeing what’s there.

Last week we did a wee session with Bible Class on ‘How to study the Bible’. One of the main points that I tried to convey was about seeing what’s there - looking carefully at the text and engaging with it in a fresh, imaginative way. I wish I’d said something about challenging assumptions and the danger of familiarity - maybe next time?

Anyway, my thoughts turned to this again in church yesterday. The minister was talking about ‘Palm Sunday’ and drew a comparison with the biblical nativity narratives. I started thinking along these lines (not in the way that he intended!). My thought process was about how overly-familiar we are with these passages, to the point that we fail to see clearly what’s there.

For example, palms are only mentioned in John’s gospel. I wonder ‘why?’. What point was John trying to make that didn’t merit the inclusion of horticultural detail from any of the synoptic authors?

But the biggest issue for me is the emphasis that the churches I’ve attended have tended to put on the Triumphal Entry as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. In over 40 years of attending churches, I’ve heard this theme on a recurring basis. I don’t recall (although I’m open to correction on this) hearing the emphasis being placed on Jesus’ declaration in this episode. We can argue the toss around why some OT prophecies about the Messiah are apparently fulfilled in the record of the life of Jesus, but it seems to me to be beyond dispute that Jesus would have been acutely aware of the significance of his mode of transport and the shock waves that would be sent forth as a result. This was a radical, challenging, decision-forcing declaration - and I think that we too easily miss the power and energy of it.

I’d love to hear your views (probably!).

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Living Intentionally: Eat a live frog every morning!

... or the value of daily planning.

One of the ways that drift happens to me is my failure to plan - in advance - what I’m going to do.  If I start the day without a plan, the drift is inevitable.  In fact, if the plan is not written down and prioritised, then things are likely to be pear-shaped.

I know that this isn’t rocket-science, nor is it in the realms of original thought.  But these things don’t make it any less real for me.  I find that this happens at home as well as at work.

I was reassured to find that this was one of Michael Hyatt’s “10 Reasons you aren’t done yet”.  The idea can also be found in Gina Trapani’s Work Smart article (or you can watch the video below).  I was amused by the Mark Twain quotation that she mentions:

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
— Mark Twain

Monday, 22 March 2010

The opposite of intentionality

Drift – it’s a word that sums up a whole family of unpleasant human experiences. Going gently, slowly where we don’t particularly want to go. Suddenly realising that we’re way off course and the place that we’re heading for is rapidly becoming unobtainable.
Paul Mitchell
Radio Scotland: Thought for the Day
02 December 2009
Drift - what happens to my blogging all too frequently.

Drift - where I’ve been recently.

Drift - where I don’t want to be anymore.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Living Intentionally

I’ve just finished reading Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. It was a wee bit of a ‘slow burner’ - that is, I nearly gave up on it. But I’m glad that I didn’t for three reasons.

Firstly, I enjoyed the book - it really picked up after the first third (or thereabouts).

Secondly, Miller promotes an approach to life which he describes as:
a life designed and lived with intention.
In my mind, I’ve translated that to ‘living intentionally’. The recent entries in my journal are littered with this phrase, as I realise that I’ve lost my focus on priorities (see yesterday’s entry). I’m sure that it’s a phrase I’ll use liberally in the next few days/ weeks as I seek to rebalance my life.

Thirdly, he describes very poignantly the death of a friend's wife, which he labels as ‘The Beauty of a Tragedy’. This part of the story was written beautifully and with great sensitivity... but more than that, it seemed to echo what my boss (and friend) was going through as his wife succumbed to cancer. Her funeral was today, and there was beauty in their tragedy - the obvious love shared within the family; the support of many friends; the strength of my boss and the girls. Their pain was self-evident today, but it was outshone by their love and their strength.

My thoughts and prayers and admiration are with my friend and his family tonight - may they continue to care for each other, as their pain slowly heals.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Stop! In the name of love

I’ve had this song in my head for a large chunk of today… since I read this blog entry from Michael Hyatt.
The connection?
Michael Hyatt’s entry describes how I’ve been feeling for a few weeks now – amongst other indicators is the sporadic nature of entries here. As I was reading his thoughts, and diagnosis, I came to the conclusion that the only sensible, possibly the only viable, option for me is to stop, take stock and regain a sense of control and composure; to think through my priorities; and to recover my daily disciplines.
In essence I need to step back to go forward. I need to do it for myself and for those that I love – hence the song title bobbing around in my head.
And if you haven’t given up reading already, you get the bonus of reaching the bit where a video of The Supremes singing the song is embedded.
If you have given up already (aye, I know it disnae make sense!), maybe you should check out Seth Godin’s offering for today.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A great day to be in Ayrshire

Friday, 5 March 2010

On blogging

No single thing in the last 15 years professionally has been more important to my life than blogging. It has changed my life; it has changed my perspective; it has changed my intellectual outlook; it has changed my emotional outlook... and it’s free!
- Tom Peters

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The golden "golden goal"

You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.

So the Winter Olympics are over. It took me a wee while to get into them this time around, but I was captivated by the middle of the last week. Vancouver seems to have put on a great show.

Of course the pinnacle was Sunday night’s hockey final (with insincere apologies to any American readers). It was a fantastic match, with USA equalising with only 24.4 seconds left. Canada came back in overtime, to score the sudden death winner.

So Canada end up with more gold medals than any other nation at these Olympics. In fact they won more gold medals than any nation has ever won at a Winter Olympics.

Inevitably I think that there are a few things that we can learn from the match.

❑        Firstly, the Canadian victory was a real team effort. The superstar of Canadian hockey - Sidney Crosby - didn’t shine brightly on the night, or indeed throughout the tournament. For me Rick Nash was the man of the match. But the point is that the superstars on your team can’t win it alone. (I should note that Crosby scored the winning goal - almost inevitably!)
❑        Secondly, I love the drama of pulling the goal-tender with 90 seconds to go. It’s a lesson in concentrating resources where they are most needed. Aye, it is risky, but it also carries the hope of reward - which did materialise in this case.
❑        Thirdly, I admire the tenacity of the Americans. They pushed right to the end, never giving up hope.
❑        Finally, I was hugely impressed by the resilience of the Canadians. To come back out after the bitter blow of the late equaliser required courage and composure. We can all learn to bounceback from setbacks. If you don’t try, you won’t succeed - hence the quotation from “The Great One” at the start of this entry.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Chores - the sequel

That Hideous Man recommended an article by Tim Chester about washing up. While I don’t agree with his rant about dishwashers, there’s a whole lot of truth in what he says. It reminded me of Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God) and his continual awareness of God’s presence as he worked in the monastery kitchen.

Our vegetable garden is laid out monastery style - the paths between the beds are just the right width for kneeling, so that you can multi-task while weeding.

The key is always our attitude, not the task.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

A joyous chore

Following my entry yesterday about chores, I realised that I had failed to comment on one of my favourite chores of the year. About this time of the year the autumn fruiting raspberries need to be pruned. This is a job that I love. I’ve blogged about this before, but I think it merits a few more words, as I did the pruning yesterday (but not the weeding or mulching).
I like this annual task because there’s an element of restoring order by removing the old, dead growth, and creating a blank canvas for the new year.
This year the pleasure is more about the promise or, at least, the anticipation of spring. It’s been an unusually harsh winter, and most of the plants are several weeks behind their normal schedule. Most of the spring bulbs are barely breaking the surface of the earth, when typically they would be in bloom by now. But the raspberries are tough, so hopefully they can take the treatment. Maybe it’s an act of madness; I prefer to see it as an act of optimism, or even an act of faith - time will tell!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Chores and simple pleasures

They are necessary for the continuation of everyday life. Yet the very term that we use for them carries negative connotations - CHORES!

Yet some of them bring a degree of pleasure - at leas that’s how I feel. I like polishing shoes - not doing loads at once, but polishing my work shoes every evening. There’s pleasure in the rhythm of brushing, and of taking something a bit scuffed and battered with the wear and tear of the day and restoring it to a state of shininess. Similarly with ironing - I like taking a crumpled shirt and ending up with a crisp, pressed end product.

By contrast, I find no pleasure (and little purpose) in car washing, even though similar principles apply. Weird, huh?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Lessons from Nelson Mandela #3

Third, last and - for me - the most important lesson from Playing the Enemy/Invictus/ the life of this amazing man.

Throughout the long years of his struggle he had one clear, overarching purpose. That's it! He used whatever strengths, talents, tactics, abilities he had available to achieve this one purpose. His grand vision never left him, although its strength may have dimmed at times when the world around him seemed hostile, bleak and dark. Yet he kept the spark alive, and poured his life in to fanning it into a country-changing fire.

How many of us can clearly articulate our purpose, let alone live it out, under all circumstances, every day of our life?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Lessons from Nelson Mandela #2

So, continuing with some thoughts from Playing the Enemy/Invictus.

I love the way that Mandela was able to challenge those around him - followers and 'enemies' alike.

He challenged his opponents, through the rugby authorities, about using the new flag, representing the new, inclusive South Africa; and he challenged his followers when they wanted to replace the green Springbok jersey. In both situations, he used his dominant position wisely - not jeopardising his influence over things that were of no consequence and not alienating people when he challenged them. In both cases, he was able to present his case on a reasonable basis, but also with an intriguing compromise.

The tradition of both sides dictated that their anthem had to be the one that was sung before rugby matches - the ANC wanted their freedom song 'Nkosi Sikeleli'; the Afrikaners insisted on the traditional, and equally provocative 'Die Stem'. The brilliant compromise was to combine them... and to convince the rugby players to learn to sing 'Nkosi Sikeli'. The version below gives the effect - although it lacks the power and passion of a rugby crowd.

Challenge and compromise - essential tools in the leaders kitbag.

One other impressive thing - in my opinion - about Mandela was the change in his attitude over the years. He developed a capacity for humility. Before he went to prison, his pride meant that his only way of engaging with his opponents was to go 'head to head', 'pride to pride' and the only possible outcome was that the dominant power would win. As time went by he cultivated a different approach, engaging with the other person, adopting a humble - but not subservient position. This frequently had the effect of disrupting the power equilibrium in the situation and changing the probable outcome.

And finally - for this entry - he developed an astonishing capacity to forgive. His lack of (obvious) bitterness was the key factor in persuading many Afrikaners that they could trust Mandela. It was expected, and would have been seen as reasonable, if Mandela had chosen to settle old scores when he was released from prison. Instead, he chose to establish relationships, heal wounds, and build coalitions.

Powerful lessons for all of us.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Booksneeze review: The Noticer by Andy Andrews

I review for BookSneeze
The Noticer by Andy Andrews has been on my Amazon wishlist for quite a while now, after reading several bloggers who loved it. So when I joined Booksneeze and saw that it was available, I jumped at the chance. (I received the book as a complimetary copy from the publisher - Thomas Nelson.)  This became my bedtime book for a few nights.

The story revolves around the mysterious character known as 'Jones' (or Garcia or Chen - depending on your ethnic origins), who notices things about people; offers them helpful advice about looking at things from a different perspective; and thereby fixing the things that are in their lives.
I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. That's what most folks lack - perspective - a broader view. So I give them that broader view... and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again.
Essentially, each chapter follows this pattern and, after a short time, I found this to be predictable to the point of irritation. The advice seemed to be twee, the universal engagement with a stranger dispensing often intrusive advice completely bizarre, and ultimately, this was not an enjoyable read.

I don't like positive such a negative review, especially as my first one for Booksneeze, but honesty requires it.

I should also acknowledge that I rarely read works of fiction. So, maybe, there is one piece of Jones' advice that I will follow.
Other people's experience is the best teacher. By reading about the lives of great people, you can unlock the secrets to what made them great.
I think that I'll stick with biographies at bedtime - at least for a while.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Lessons from Nelson Mandela #1

I said that I'd write about some of the lessons that I learned from Invictus/Playing the Enemy - I'll do some of this over the next few days.

It seems clear that Nelson Mandela is an amazing man. It also seems that everyone that he met succumbed to his charm and manner. We frequently hear about some people having 'presence'. From the portrayals in the book and the movie, Mandela had bucketloads of presence. He was naturally charismatic; he smiled a lot (there's a mini lesson in that for me!); and he took an interest in whoever he was talking to. He engaged them - even when they were hostile.

What follows is assumption on my part, so you can judge the validity of it. I think that Mandela was/is very conscious of the impact that he has on the people he meets. He knows that he can charm the birds from the trees, and he uses this to his advantage. I suspect that he also had to work hard to develop his natural ability into a skill that he could deploy to great effect.

In other words, he identified a key strength and carefully crafted it over many years.

So the question for us - do we know what our strengths are and are we actively honing them to maximise their impact?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Books and movies

On Friday night we went to see Invictus – the film about Nelson Mandela and the Rugby World Cup of 1995 (more of which in later posts).  I had just finished reading the book, originally published with the title “Playing the enemy” – I was determined to finish it before I saw the film.  However, this tempered my enjoyment of it.

I was constantly comparing and contrasting the two versions, which certainly took away from the overall experience.  Helen really enjoyed the film; I thought it was good.

Ironically I felt that John Carlin, the author of the book, overplayed the saintliness of Mandela and the power of his smile; for me, the film underplayed the sense of presence that Mandela apparently has.

How do you resolve the book/movie dilemma?  Does it even affect you, or am I just being a bit anal?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Spiritual 5-a-day for Lent

I prepared this for Nurture Group (inspired by nef), so I thought I'd share it.  If anyone does use it, I'd really appreciate honest, constructive feedback.  The idea is to print it as a booklet on one sheet of A4, so that it's portable.  It's attached as two pictures, 'cos I'm not smart enough to know how to do it more elegantly - any ideas gratefully received.

Lent words

Monday, 15 February 2010

Lessons from rugby - snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Another dismal result for Scotland on Saturday - it really brings out the optimist in me!  Well, there's always the next match to look forward to (against Italy - 27 February).

So rather than focus on the negative aspects, are there any lessons that we can learn from the match?

I think there are a few things:

We played with more adventure (at least in the first half) than when we played France.  Things only started to unravel when we played more defensively, absorbing pressure and losing momentum.

LESSON - loss of momentum is a killer.

Our overall play improved - better execution of moves; better tackling and breakdown activity; played as if they knew each other (at times against France they looked like strangers meeting for the first time!).  But... they didn't finish it off.

LESSON - starting well is good, but ultimately fruitless if you don't finish well.

We finished the game with 13 men - the referee invited two Scots to watch the end of the match from the comfort of the bench/changing room.

LESSON - discipline and concentration on the objective are essential.

At the very end of the match, Scotland could have kicked the ball into touch and the match would have finished as a draw.  They didn't, Wales scored, we lost.  Bizarrely I totally agree with this decision.  Scotland set out to play a more expansive game; played to win; played - I hope - as they intend to play from now on, with a sense of adventure.

LESSON - stick to your principles - especially if they are the basis for future growth.

We suffered several notable injuries - most notably Thom Evans' neck injury which later required surgery.

MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OF ALL - be grateful for good health.

Sunday, 14 February 2010


Troon - 13 February 2010

Friday, 12 February 2010

The 45-minute hour

One of the ways that I try to manage my energy and concentration is to adopt the 45-minute hour.  What do I mean?

Well, I've discovered that my concentration span is no more than 45 minutes these days.

So when I'm working in my office at work or at home, I plan to work for 45 minutes on any one task, then take a break.

During the break I can make a cup of coffee or stretch a bit, or go and talk to someone else in the building.  I also take a minute or so before I start again to re-focus and pray.

I've even found that it helps to set a reminder to alert me when the 45 minutes is up.  As this rhythm is developing I find that I'm also scheduling meetings for 45 minutes, or having a break in longer meetings after 45 minutes.

It feels more productive and I've got more energy.  

Do you have any tips for using time wisely?  I'd love to hear them.

The 45-minute hour

One of the ways that I try to manage my energy and concentration is to adopt the 45-minute hour.  What do I mean?

Well, I've discovered that my concentration span is no more than 45 minutes these days.

So when I'm working in my office at work or at home, I plan to work for 45 minutes on any one task, then take a break.

During the break I can make a cup of coffee or stretch a bit, or go and talk to someone else in the building.  I also take a minute or so before I start again to re-focus and pray.

I've even found that it helps to set a reminder to alert me when the 45 minutes is up.  As this rhythm is developing I find that I'm also scheduling meetings for 45 minutes, or having a break in longer meetings after 45 minutes.

It feels more productive and I've got more energy.  

Do you have any tips for using time wisely?  I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Nothing is important

Nothing is important

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Pacing yourself

So the French gubbed us on Sunday - they played well, we didn't.  But rather dwell on the aspects of defeat, I want to reflect on the French approach to the game, and one player in particular.

The French had clearly decided to rely on power rather than flair, pace and panache - no criticism there.  They fielded a team of big lumps, and they executed their tactics with aplomb (mainly).  They destroyed the Scottish scrum throughout the match, pushing it all over the park, buckling it as they saw fit.  They picked some monsters in their back line as well, including the 18-stone centre Mathieu Bastareaud - he was 4 stones heavier than his opposite number.  I know how that feels (I was only 9 stones when I played most of my (limited) rugby, so I was always outmuscled and thrown about like a ragdoll.)  But I digress...

I don't want to talk about Bastareaud - I might get nightmares!  I want to talk about AurĂ©lien Rougerie.  He's a wee fellow - just 16 stones, and 6 feet 4 inches - who plays at winger (which was my position!)  Anyway, Rougerie had a remarkable game, his tackle count was unblemished, and unimpressive:

Tackles missed - 0
Tackles made  - 2

Minutes played - 4

Aye, he lasted 4 minutes.  Within the first minute or so, he flung himself into a tackle at full tilt - he was clearly committed to executing the tactics of the power game.  It was a shuddering tackle, which sent his opponent backwards to the turf.  But Rougerie came off worst by injuring himself.  He got back into the game, but clearly hadn't recovered properly.  Then he hurtled into another tackle - this time he didn't recover and had to be replaced.

What do we learn from this?

Well, experience should have taught Rougerie something!

But in any endeavour, while it's important to start well, it's also important to pace yourself so that you can finish well.  Sustaining our effort may mean holding back a bit at the outset, but it's a discipline that's worth learning.

I hope Rougerie recovers from his injury quickly - and that he maybe takes some time to reflect on this experience.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Passing the Buckfast OR fast buckpassing?

So once again, the unusual tonic wine is in the news here.  I resisted blogging about it a couple of weeks ago, when it was reported as being linked to 5,000 crimes over a three year period.  Now Scottish Labour has launched their own commission on alcohol and are calling for the amount of caffeine in Buckfast to be reduced.  Maybe they've got a point - but it's a minor issue.  

When you consider the extent of the problem that this country has with alcohol misuse, the use of Buckfast is all but irrelevant.  Still it gives the politicos in oor wee Parliament something else to disagree about.  Labour won't play with the SNP minimum pricing proposals, the SNP won't play with Labour's Buckfast proposals.  I've heard a lot of arguments about these two issues over the weekend, but I haven't heard anything about the root cause of the problem.  Nor have I heard any talk about working together in a consensual (call it adult) way to deal with this issue.  You see that doesn't make good headlines, doesn't show how different we are from each other, how much more impressive my argument is than yours.

It's the politics of the playground; while alcohol continues to blight lives up and down the land.  It drives me mad.

Pass the Buckfast - I need a drink!