Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dr Ted Herbert

This morning I learnt from the ICC website that Dr Ted Herbert, passed away during the night. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the college community today.

I previously posted a recording of Ted talking about his serious illness, made during the last weeks of his life on this earth. It is now more poignant then ever, and can be heard here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Perth's Contrasting Pastimes (for the rich)

Within sight of my house there are two groups of people who enjoy their rich-man's playthings. On many evenings this week, clear skies and gentle winds have seen Virgin hot-air balloons gently rising from the town's inch's and making their graceful, silent progress through the falling sunlight.

Down at the riverbank, the peace is shattered with the roar of petrol engines, and the stop-start sound of propellers dipping into and rising out of the water, between the heavy slap-thud of the vessel crashing back into the waves. Apparently the local bye-laws allow the unrestricted racing and egotistical performing of jet-ski's, at high-speed through the middle of the town. The Tay in Perth, is of course home to huge numbers of fish and their predators (human, animal and bird alike) as well as shy-creatures like otters, who are now rarely spotted on these reaches. Of course the noise of the engines, the excitement of speed and the wash, the foam and the stunts appeals to the children, who love to watch the jetskiers pushing their aquatic stunt-bikes closer and closer to the inevitable accident........
But what would Ratty and Mole have said to Badger, if Mr Toad had disturbed the peace of the riverbank on one of these?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ted Herbert on Faith and Cancer

Although much of my studying was done by distance-learning etc, I did attend some classes while doing my degree. One of those courses was an Old Testament module taught by Dr Ted Herbert, the vice-principal of International Christian College in Glasgow. Ted is a brilliant scholar (Dead Sea Scrolls his speciality) and a passionate communicator of his vast knowledge. He is above all that a man of great faith, as is apparent in the clip in which he talks at his church in Glasgow about his recent diagnosis of advanced inoperable terminal cancer. I spotted this clip on Colin Adams' blog unashamed workman, this morning, and thought it was worth also embedding it here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

This still makes me smile...

First time I saw this I up-ended myself laughing, and despite the number of times I've seen it, it still makes me smile - and I've just found it on the ubiquitous YouTube.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Our Day in Court

The intention was to walk into town with the kids, get to the butcher's shop, and buy some new clothes for Boris, whose rapidly lengthening body has outrun even his remarkable ability to wear holes in his clothes! That was the intention, in practice we ended up in the cells beneath Perth Sheriff Court!

Nothing sinister was afoot however - yesterday was 'open doors day' in many of Perth and Kinross' public buildings. We didn't know that until we walked past the court-house and saw the banner, I suggested going in and en famille hideouse were up for it so in we went. After a long wait, we were taken on a tour of the whole place, solicitors rooms, witness rooms, jury rooms and the courts themselves. They had DVD's on queue to show us what a trial in progress would look like and policemen and court officers there explaining the history of the building and the legal system as well as where everyone sits in the court and their roles. Boris and Norris were delighted to be invited to sit on the judges bench, and while Boris grinned at the chamber, Norris affected an suitably disdainful and imperious judicial gaze.

Last of all - having been convicted and passed sentence upon by Sheriff's Boris and Norris (who were disappointed to learn that cruel and unusual punishments were not within their power) we were dispatched to the cells. These were a revelation of grimness, a dark underground gulag without air, windows, comfort or humanity. The guard who worked in this dungeon added to the drama by describing the awful heat down there when it is full, the drug-addicted prisoners going crazy for a fix, the fights, vandalism and misery of the long, long wait for trial. He described tragedy of seeing the same faces, week-in-week out, being repeatedly bailed for minor offences, mostly gaining cash to feed addictions. He described the assaults he has suffered along with the abuse, down in that lost soulless subterranean chasm. Most chillingly of all, he bemoaned the loss of the death penalty and his desire to see it re-instated.

Back up the stairs we saw the rest of the offices, the library and the old ball-room which for many years held Perth's annual hunt-ball. It was a fascinating visit, which illuminated both the processes of justice, and the tragedies of victims and perpetrators of crime, alike.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Upwards, Inside & Out!

The extension to Perth Baptist Church Centre continues apace!

The main roof is now being added which will hide the little 'turret' of the prayer chapel behind it.

Inside the building they have punched through the roof in order to join the new extended roof beams in. A blue tarpaulin keeps the rain out of the gap in between the original building and the extension.

Lines on Spiritual Nudism

When I was a kid I used to have the dream about falling and floating. Apparently, it's a standard one that loads of people have and there is (allegedly) some profound psychological meaning to accompany the phenomenon, but I can never remember what. It is also reported that many people dream about being found naked in a public place. I remember once dreaming about taking part in a fun-run only to realise half way through it that I was the only runner wearing the proverbial Emperor's New Clothes. (I realise, gentle reader, that this is not an image upon which you will wish to dwell for long). Such dreams are said to be revealing of inner self-doubts and profound insecurities, and they may well be so; (providing of course that the dreamer's response to discovering their nakedness in the High Street isn't to begin singing, dancing and making an exhibition of themselves!) Shame, embarrassment and frantic attempts to restore decency would seem to be a healthier response than exhibitionism - yet I will not bore the reader with an account of which extreme dominated the finale of my particular dream. Suffice to say, the peculiar emotional experience of the dream is something I have experienced repeatedly of late.

My experience of preaching (of which I seem to have been doing rather a lot lately, hence the reduction in blogging) is that it is somewhat akin to the stark-naked dream! There is something about standing and delivering a message from both the text and the heart, which is deeply and uncomfortably revealing of ones-self. It is not a controlled self-disclosure either, as one would manage in a private conversation, but a laying bare of the soul as much as the mind, in front of a group. The group consists of many people, some who you know, some you don't; people who maybe inspired or dismayed in equal measures. That inspiration or dismay is not just an intellectual critique of the message, either - it is a reaction (at least in part) to the disclosed self! The great irony of this vulnerability of preaching is that the aim of the exercise is neither to wince with embarrassment nor to indulge in exhibitionism but to draw attention away from ones-self to God, via the medium of the Biblical text.

Perhaps at this point you wish to object, 'there should be no self-disclosure in preaching, simply the study and application of the message'. That, however desirable, can never be the case and doesn't even happen in the intellectually controlled environment of a theology lecture - still less in a sermon! Two preachers, with identical theology, handling the same text will not produce identical presentations. They will differ in emphasis, illustration, development of the argument, application; and the difference between the two is personality - and it is this that is laid bare before the congregation. Is a point to be forced home with illustration, or an question left nagging for an answer? How are the full implications of a text to be explored, if they need to be moderated by contrasted with other texts and theological formulations? Will the words flow fluently and compellingly or 'die on the lips?'; will controversial subjects be handled with tact or with gaffe's of Boris Johnson proportions?

For me, all this takes place in the context of having struggled and wrestled with a text for many days while studying it and trying to work it out myself. The delivery usually takes place in front of many people who I know who are at least equally struggling to outwork such things in their lives. A remark that makes one person smile, or nod with approval and fills them with hope and encouragement - can be exactly the same one that makes another head bow in grief. The question is this - was the remark accurate, was it carefully worded, or was it off the cuff and foolish, an intrusion of the self in to the meaning of the text to be regretted, or was it a faithful application of difficult truth to be affirmed? Every one of these questions is akin to a spiritual striptease in from of a congregation, in that every decision that is made, often very quickly, is deeply self-revealing. The real rub however is the final struggle, that despite all those concerns and considerations, despite beginning with grappling with text, language and context; despite praying deeply through the pastoral consequences of what is to be said; the aim is to win the approval of God, not the congregation. The congregation is always that, a gathering of worshippers; it must never become an audience - especially in the preacher's mind.

My parents vicar once said to the congregation, "I had a horrible dream in which I stood here preaching, stark-naked; still it could have been worse - you could all have been naked!" Unless the preacher is just an actor, the act of inhabiting and presenting a biblical sermon is the most vulnerable thing I know. It is followed by the twin dangers of excess dismay if the message is not well received, or undue pride if it is. There is also of course the awful knowledge that one's own sins, follies, failures or mistakes might actually hold others back in their spiritual lives. The positives are that when it goes 'well' people say they are helped in their lives (sometimes you get such feedback over a year later!), and that if it goes 'badly' you probably won't be invited to preach again for a while! That will mean you get a Sunday off, to escape the dreadful sound of your own voice and go and enjoy some decent preaching somewhere else!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Haunted by the Curse of the Millenium Wok

'A wok is only as good as the food inside it', would seem to be a rather obvious observation. Chinese restaurants do not win accolades for the size or quality of their award-winning pans, but (we hope) for the stunning combination of flavours which dazzle the happy palate of the consumer of their garlic and chili-laden chicken satay.

This is a lesson which the good and wise leaders of our country apparently hadn't grasped as they planned the millennium celebrations, eight short years ago (eight!!). For those of you who live outside the UK, the centre-piece of the celebrations here was the 'Millennium Dome', a gigantic upturned wok by the Thames in East London. It could hold vast crowds, it was a magnificent piece of engineering and it was anticipated that millions would gather under its giant roof to admire the er...... um...... er... things that we will put in it that people might want to come and look at, er, at least I think that's it. Conceived in the decaying years of the Major government, and executed in Blair's glory years of successful media management, the Millennium Wok was to be a triumph! The nagging question about what was going actually go in the cosmic inverted oriental saucepan, lingered in the background like the proverbial bad smell. No, that's not strictly true, the doubts about the content accelerated towards the millennium, like a jet-aircraft approaching take-off speed. In what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to avert disaster, the incumbent regime frantically sought to rustle-up some last minute attractions, to lure the punters in under the guidance of the fella from Eurodisney. In the end, visitor numbers were neither as embarrassingly low as the scheme's detractors had predicted, but neither were they anything near the what original vision for the project had envisaged.

I watched today as a huge mobile crane towered above the houses of Perth's western edge, lowering long, pre-cut beams into position over the structure whose roof they will form. For two years we have looked at the architects plans, displayed on the church noticeboard. Now every day the building site more closely resembles the shapes we have imagined for so long. It has been a wonderful process of planning, teamwork, fundraising and sacrificial giving by many, many people to get us this far.

However, even as I watched part of the structure being lowered into place, I was struck by the image of the Millennium Dome; that awesome space, that for so long was an awful vacuum. I am somewhat haunted by the image of that great space, like an inverse tardis, so externally impressive and yet internally vacant. But my comparison is not a practical one. In the case of our church fellowship, we are spilling out of the space we are in and have immediate need for a new kitchen to replace the old condemned one, a decent office, a quiet place for prayer, storage space, not to mention a worship space in which we can all gather. No, practically filling the space is not the concern, we are a very active fellowship with kids clubs, bible-classes, toddler groups, youth groups, ladies group, lunches, bible-studies, and more, all in addition to the main worship services.

I looked at the shape of the sanctuary spreading out across what was once grass and wondered. I wondered if this space we are, by the grace of God building, will be a place in which He makes himself present with us. Will it be a place of empty possibilities left dangling in the air with all the disillusionment of unfulfilled potential, or will it be a place in which we meet with God? Will it be a place in which Christ is made known, and in which people are drawn to Him, or a place of missed opportunities? Will it be a place in which community functions, and the love of Christ is evidenced in practical caring - or place in which parallel lives almost, but never quite, touch. Will it be a place in which God's praises are sung that will lift these brand-new rafters, or simply a place in which songs are sung? Will our prayer-chapel be a place of wrestling with God and in which the blessings of heaven are secured for earth, or simply a place of spiritual massage!? Will the new platform under the end-wall that is now but a timber-frame, be one from which the word is preached with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, or one from which mere words are issued?

The image of the great millennium wok, the Greenwich Folly, haunts me and disturbs me. It unsettles me and must drive me to prayer. If you sense such a disturbance - will you join me?

Tip of the Day, (from Numpty of the Week)

Always remember to turn the taps off when answering the front door!


Saturday, September 13, 2008

1st Beam

The first main roof-beam for the extension goes in!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday Mornings...

Although it is rather strange not having little Doris toddling about the place all the time, it does have its compensations. She adores going to nursery, and is less than impressed on days when she can't go there. So on Thursday mornings, Mrs Hideous and I drop the kids off at school and nursery and go out for coffee. It's become a regular highlight of the week since we began it at the beginning of the term. Having run the marriage course several times, we finally seem to be getting the lesson from session one 'book regular time on your own together' into order.

OK so this week after an very enjoyable coffee at Cafe Breazh, the trip did descend to shopping, where the normal arrangements took over. Mrs Hideous looked at the things for sale in the shop, while I looked out of the window. This is the view from the upstairs window of a town-centre shop.

Geography Quiz

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Banned (apparently)

Boris and Norris ran up to us laughing, and giving each other those knowing conspiratorial looks that immediately trigger warning signals in us parents. "Watch, watch!" they demanded as they rolled a dice across the floor. "It's a six, it's a six; a SIX!!" they shrieked with obvious delight -amidst waves of speech-defying giggling.
"What does this mean?" we enquired.
"It means you are both banned for SIX YEARS!" they announced.
"Banned from what?" we dared ask.
"From kissing each other!" they yelled!
"WHY?"we wanted to know.
The answer it seems is:
"Because is !!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Book Notes: Sorrows of the Moon by Iqbal Ahmed

As long as there have been glitzy travel guides to the tourist-traps of London, there have been alternative books published which seek to expose the 'other' side of the city. Huge quantities of ink have been spilt describing everything from Windsor in the West, St Paul's in the centre, The Tower to the East, to Greenwich further out; but writers from Pepys to Dickens have also published works revealing the dark underbelly of London. Their London is one of pickpockets, alleys, criminals, and dark goings-on, every bit as much as it is about the great affairs of state which continue in parallel. Edward Platt's astonishing Leadville - 'a biography of the A40' continues in this tradition reflecting on the interactions between those with power and those affected by their decisions. The focus of his study is the planners and the effect they have on the changing communities of the A40 - westway into London.

All these great books have a common thread though; they are written by people for whom London is home. Sorrows of the Moon however is billed as a journey through London written from the perspective of someone born in Kashmir, as he tries to make a home in London. As such he comes to the table of 'London books' with fresh eyes, alert to different things than I would notice if I was to walk through the streets he describes. It is this perspective that makes this book worth reading.

Contrary to the cover blurb, this book is not wonderfully written (for all the accolades heaped upon it) at times the language is staid and repetitive. What makes this book arresting is the author's powers of observation, which are powerful and perceptive in that he does not bombard the reader with unnecessary detail; but manages to select intriguing atmosphere-building details to enhance his descriptions of the ordinary people he meets across London. His encounters with landlords, businessmen, taxi-drivers, refugees, doormen, sewing machine operators in Brick Lane and middle-class London in Hampstead are fascinating.

What makes the book dark is that Ahmed finds much of what he encounters to be oppressive, empty and soul-less and lonely, as are many of the people he meets. It's this sense of being an outsider so effectively expressed that makes this book valuable. Here's a short extract:


Our church centre is a building site!

What will be the prayer-chapel - a quiet place for prayer even when the rest of the place is buzzing with noise and activity - has begun to rise at the corner of the extension.

The extended bit traditionally called the 'sanctuary', emerging from the end of the exisiting building. This should accomodate us all for worship.

"But will God really dwell on earth?
The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.
How much less this temple I have built!
1 Kings 8:27

Friday, September 05, 2008

Beinn a' Bheithir

My camera might still be knackered, but Mr Meldrew brought his. This is his photo of the view down Loch Leven with Glen Coe to the right of the loch and The Mamores to the left.
(c) Meldrew Photographics 2008

Beinn a' Bheithir & The Worst Path in Scotland

Beinn a' Beithir, is a mountain which has every feature that could make it rank high in any hillwalkers list of favourites; two great peaks, majestic soaring ridges, incredible views into adjacent Glen Coe, views over the sea, and out over the islands, gentle lower slopes leading up to narrowing rocky ridges and what is more we climbed it yesterday on a gorgeous autumn day in which the sun shone on us, and we passed around the sun cream, but there was no haze and visibility was perfect - but there is a "but" coming...... But, Beinn a' Beithir has gained a certain notoriety for the impassable forestry draped all around the great mountain, even pushing high up into the corries. We battled and struggled, pushed and scraped our way through trees, bushes, thickets, bogs and more trees in order to gain the ridge - after the 'path' came to a dead-end 100m short of open countryside! Once through this little ordeal and out onto the ridges it would be hard to think of a better hill-day, save for the nagging thought of the descent to come. Not wanting to face the horror of the ascent route in reverse we went off Northwards from Sgorr Dhearg, and just about managed to pick a route off the end of the ridge - thanks to the fact that the forestry there is relatively young, but this too will be impassable once these trees mature. It was a pretty ghastly descend, with one or two tumbles involved!

On the map above the impassable bits are marked with a red cross, and the green arrow suggest a better route up, avoiding these obstacles but involving more ascent if you want to climb both peaks. (still no camera :-( )

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

TMC - Perth

We've taken the plunge and decided to run the Marriage Course again in Perth, starting after the half-term holidays. We've just completed a review of the feedback from all the previous courses and the overwhelming consensus was that it was helpful and useful - so we are running again if there are more couples wanting to do it. We were asked to speak about it at another local church last Sunday, and have begun putting leaflets back on display at our church - we'll see if there is a continued demand.

As ever, there are plenty of prejudices to overcome in successfully promoting something like this. I have blogged about these before, and include things such as it is marriage counselling for relationships in difficulty, or it is only for young-marrieds, or it includes group-discussion, or it is overly prescriptive and tells you how to live, rather than empowering couples with relational skills to negotiate however they together decide to live. Sometimes it can be depressing, having explained what the Marriage Course is (and isn't!) so clearly - to have normally reliable people continuing to audibly misunderstand it - from the unique vantage point of almost total ignorance of the subject matter!

We are going to host the course again because we think that it is so helpful. We have done the course twice now completely, and this has been a real eye-opener for us in terms of how successful it can be. Going back over the exercises that we did first time round, reading the comments that we wrote down and the plans that we made, reviewing all of those things a year later made us realise just how much progress we had made as a result of doing the course. It's an obvious and tired old cliche that marriage requires work. What is less obvious is where to start that work, what structure it should have, and how we can help each other in the task of building a happy and enjoyable marriage. The Marriage Course provides exactly that. The even less obvious thing is that the work can be made enjoyable, spiritually enlightening, and even fun, and again this was our experience of the course. While it is true that we identified areas of our marriage which we needed to improve and were given good ideas on how to do that - the marriage course is also a great way to identify and celebrate the areas of the relationship that are really successful, and to recognize the achievements made over the years. This in itself can raise bits of the everyday 'taken-for-granted' to things of gratitude and encouragement to work on weaker areas.

In the last three days I have been told by one couple that the course "really worked" for them, another guy told me that he did the course even though he didn't want to as his 20yr long marriage was going well - but thoroughly enjoyed it and gained a lot from it. Another lady told me, with deep sadness of the way that her marriage had ended twenty years ago when such resources were not freely available in the church and the community - and encouraged us to persevere with it, while another husband said he had come on the course under duress, but thought it was excellent, recommended to to others, and in fact wanted to do it again!

We have a marriage course page on our church website which can be seen here. Marriage Courses are available all over the UK and in other countries too. To find the nearest course to where you live click here. For more information e-mail: marriagecourse@perthbaptist.org.uk