Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rev. Derek O. Swann

I have just heard the news that Mr Swann, who was my minister for eighteen years, has died in Cardiff, after a long illness. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family today.

Mr Swann had a sharp mind and a warm heart, two characteristics which were vital in his long ministry. What won him huge respect from so many people was his in-depth and thorough bible-teaching, for which people would travel many miles. As a contributor to reference works such as the Illustrated Bible Dictionary, and a book reviewer for publishers such as IVP, Mr Swann was no mean Bible-scholar whose rigorous grappling with the texts, and languages meant that hearing him preach was always an enriching learning experience. What he presented though was not mere dry, austere academic orthodoxy, (orthodox though it was!) but heartfelt, and heartwarming preaching of Christ, forged as much on his knees in prayer, as it was in study at his desk.

Fewer people will remember what a great pastor he was to children. His children's talks in church were way ahead of their time in the 1970s, innovative, interactive, visual and memorable. That is not to say they were ever flippant - far from it - in fact they could be very sobering. Several stand out in my mind very clearly even to this day. As the children left the church part-way through the service we all filed past the big pulpit and lots of the little ones would wave up at him as we went past the foot of the steps, and he would beam back at us! In a not unconnected vein he once taught us to begin our prayers, "Dear, kind, heavenly-Father".

In my teenage years, Mr Swann was willing to spend time with me - not just talking to me and engaging with problems and ideas - but also listening to me, despite the fact that much of what came out must have sounded like self-obsessed teenage rambling! He was also known for his faithful visiting in the town, calling in and spending time with the elderly, the sick and the suffering (distributing Lucozade, driving very fast, and being accompanied by a mad little dog!).

Mr Swann not only married my parents in 1967, and baptised me in 1971, but with his immense learning, wisdom and integrity has had a huge influence on my life. I thank God for him.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


This is posted here in honour of the person who once posted on this blog as "that hideous sister", who has brought shame and dishonour on our whole family by becoming an accountant.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Curse of Stumpy Greenisland

When Dr Stumpy Greenisland e-mailed me earlier this week to merrily wish me a "pox on my house" I laughed at his genial good humour.
When however a pox did in fact subsequently strike the household, (Doris, chicken) I was a little taken aback by the veracity of the good Dr's words!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Unspoiled by Feminism"

OK - so that title got your attention!

Vlad, (a regular reader, but never commenter on this blog) has sent me a really scary leaflet, which he was handed on the streets of Dundee recently. The Dundee based organisation, "Hand-in-hand" offers to import wives for lonely single Scotsmen from the Czech republic. Not only is the customer offered the chance to select age, height, hair and eye colour and build but the front-page blurb actually says the following:

Our programs are designed for single men looking for a true life partner, who is beautiful (10 to 20 years younger), intelligent and educated, is unspoiled by feminism and whose culture is one of support and respect for their husband".

So is this the practical solution to a practical problem; poor women seeking residence in a richer nation, and lonely men finding love? Or is it a scandalous trading in people as if they were commodities, and as outrageous as the Albanian people-trafficking that Endlessly Restless has been blogging about today?

I think the latter. Immanuel Kant famously interpreted the command of Christ (the golden rule) to "do to others as you would have them do to you" as, "you may only treat people as 'ends' never as simply 'means'". The thought that just as businesses can re-locate to Eastern Europe in order to pay lower wages, and be faced with lower health and safety, pension or NI costs, might be transferred to the field of romance and marriage is appalling. The suggestion that a woman might have to assume a subservient role, in order to get here is shocking. The suggestion that 'respect ' can be purchased any more than 'true love' is deceptive. The Christian debate between Complimentarians and Egalitarians is well documented, but both sides of that fierce debate would condemn this trade in souls.

I can't believe that this is being promoted so close to home.

As for Vlad himself, he says he is not going to pursue a wife this way, thankfully. He rightly points out that they sound a bit insipid and that a proper row with a feisty Scots lass is a far more appealing proposition. I might add that the Irish shouldn't be excluded from the search criteria either!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Celebrate Surgery

Eleven of Perth's most singular characters assembled at the Nurjahan the other night for what can only be described as the least plausible excuse for a night out I have ever come across. Nevertheless, the Solihill 5 even travelled North so that one of their number could attend! The Nurjahan is probably Perth's finest Indian restaurant, at least we reckon so, John agrees (and he was born there) and so does Jones the Chemist. He should also know, because his wife is Indian and they have assessed all Perth's restaurants and give this one the best score. In fact her only complaint about the Nurjahan is that it is not "Indian" at all - but is staffed by Bangladeshi's who cook Bangladeshi food!

On leaving the restaurant I remarked on the fact that the evening had been noteworthy for its staggeringly unusual cast of characters present. Percy Cowpat retorted that what could I expect, given the fact that the only thing they had in common was that they are friends with me! Seldom can a common denominator have been quite so low!
(cick on the image to enlarge)

The Temptations of Consumerism

1. To believe that the appearance of affluence is the central organising principle of life.

2. To believe that being compulsively busy even to the point of exhaustion is a sign of healthy and productive living.

3. To believe that having a successful career is more important than being a good parent,a good spouse, a good neighbour, a kind and loving person, or taking a walk in the woods.

4. To believe that good work is reducible to making money and unpaid work, particularly in the home; is not really working.

5. To believe that the appropriate goal in life is to enjoy prosperity in a stylish home with a perfectly manicured lawn.

6. To believe that depression can / should be cured by shopping.

7. To believe that the most important thing in life is to have your needs met.

8. To believe that we are all on our own, because there is no grace, no ultimate mercy within the depths of things and our task is to look out for number one.

Our church is doing a series on idolatry at the moment. In biblical times the temptation to 'build gods of wood and stone' etc was literal - while the contemporary idols which get worshipped are more subtle. This week's idol to be unmasked was 'consumerism'. Thanks to our minister Charles, for bringing some of Jay B. McDaniel's analysis to our attention.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Going, going, going, gone...

While the brick-extension at the southern end of the old hillside hospital was a bit gim-looking, it seems such a shame that no use could be found for the charming stone-built original hospital at the northern end of the site.

Smash and Grab!

The last few moment's of Perth's old hospital, being cleared for sheltered accommodation and luxury flats. The design for the new building has everything that one would expect from contemporary development, it is too big for the site, incongruous in context, managed to flaunt planning guidelines because of a healthy bung given to the council (er, sorry "planning gain" not bung), and all residents objections were ignored.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Sight of Sleat

Sgurr na Ciche, high in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart looks majestic across the Sound of Sleat, from Skye's southernmost peninsula. Then, this morning before we left for home, the West Coast treated us to a breathtaking sunrise, which changed in shapes, colours, lights, patterns and contrasts. We were speechless before it.

It reminds me of Psalm 19, which starts:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

The creative intent was that the world should be a canvas on which the glory of God would be displayed.

Lord, spare me from the idolatry of merely glorying in the created - and not lifting my gaze higher, to worship you.

The Sight of the Sound of Sleat

Moorings at Ardvasar

Mallaig by Night, from Sleat

Skye View

Glen Brittle, where the majestic Cuillin climb from the valley floor to grasp at the sky.

Lovely Elgol, whose harbour and stony beach afford fine views of the end of the Cuillin ridge, and where the foot-ferry for Loch Coruisk departs.

The evening sun reflects on the bogs by the path up to the Old man of Storr.

The last sailing of the day. The little Cal-Mac ferry plies its way back and forth across the Sound of Sleat eight times a day. I spent a long afternoon sitting reading on a bench overlooking the sea, while the ferry's progress divided the day into measured segments, and the sun slowly set on the distant Knoydart peaks beyond.

What do these have in common?

The answer is simply that the Otter, Seal, Fishing Industry, and Railway, were all drawn here to Mallaig because of fish, and have subsequently been under threat.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rowan Williams Speaks Out

On the eve of the fateful day on which the House of Commons were cajoled into committing British troops to the disastrous invasion of Iraq - on the basis of spurious claims in the infamous "sexed-up dodgy dossier", Archbishop Rowan Williams made a brilliant speech. In his lecture he drew on long historical analysis to demonstrate the disasters that have occurred even when "well-meaning" people commit to war with the best of intentions. His warning to Blair and Brown that this was not another Kosovo in which military action was overdue and would lead to personal glory was well made. The problem was that his speech was academic, his analysis rigorous, and his appeal winsome not aggressive. He has since gone on record as saying that his deepest regret is not more forcibly declaring his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

This appears to be something which he is not going to repeat, judging by the comments he has made today, directed at hawks within the Bush administration whose sabres are rattling towards Damascus and Tehran. He said, "We do hear talk from some quarters of action against Syria, or against Iran", any such action, he said, would be "criminal, ignorant...and potentially murderous folly".

May these prophetic words be heard loudly and clearly.

Talk more, watch less

In the Spring, Panorama ran a documentary which demonstrated the improvement in behaviour children exhibit when their exposure to television is reduced. It was quite scary, and it made us take a look at how much time Boris, Norris and Doris were spending each day watching the thing. It was too much - and we've cut down, and we reckon that it has led to a certain calming amongst out more exuberant offspring!

Recently when I exercised the parental prerogative and reached for the 'off' button (the "it's not fair" button) the kids claimed that they were now 'bored'. This of course indicates the extent to which the wretched tube, sucks their creative spirit, and will result in more extensive use of the off-button, not less.

What followed was brilliant though! Boris and Norris had overheard an edition of Radio 4s "I'm sorry I haven't a clue" and Boris was especially taken with the word-game they play in which they construct a sentence, each player submitting a single word and trying not to be the one to end it.

This lead to uproarious laughter as the sentences got more and more surreal. We ended with, "Once upon a spring there was a large potato which has nothing to do with spoons!". With this, both boys up-ended themselves with laughter, rolling with fits of uncontrollable giggles which made their sides hurt. The rest of the game was abandoned in the ensuing chaos.

When was the last time that watching TV was that much fun?


Not been blogging of much late, and not simply due to post-operative discomfort and sympathy- seeking either. In fact this week I have been reading more than writing, which I suppose could be the bloggers equivalent of the biblical maxim to be 'quick to listen and slow to speak'.
Here's a few thngs that have caught my eye recently:

Total Abandon
the story of a contemporary martyr over at Unashamed Workman.

Dominic Smart's address
at the 'Preach the Word' conference last week.

Reformed Theological Seminary
in the States has made a huge number of their course lectures available free on iTunes. I have gone through the four-part series on the theology of Karl Barth, which is a useful introduction to his thought from his reaction to 19thC liberalism, his conflict with the Nazis, and his development of Neo-orthodox existential dialectical theology.

Endlessly Restless over at his blog "Of Dreams and Visions" has been running a series of contemporary reflections on a biography of Luther.

While Adrian has had a few posts on the spirituality of John Owen

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Scary Internet

If you need any further proof that the Internet is a scary place, read on. I have just noticed that the hits-counter on this little blog has gone through the roof. An alarming number of people have been here over the last few days. In order to discover the reason for this sudden, unexpected and undeserved popularity, I have checked to see when the sudden deluge of visitors began.
It seems to coincide almost exactly with the appearance of a post here entitled 'gonads'. Obviously a key word for the search engines............ scary.