Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Cartoon

This one seems to be doing the rounds on e-mail.... no idea where it comes from!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Almost Making Use of My Life Insurance on Buachaille Etive Beag

Buachaille Etive Beag - South Ridge

It's been almost a decade since Mrs Hideous & I have been out hillwalking together, on our own. Many happy days in the hills with assorted friends and children have been enjoyed in the meantime - but we have missed getting out by ourselves like we used to. This weekend we put this right with a great walk over the Munros and tops of Glen Coe's Buachaille Etive Beag; while my parents entertained Boris, Norris and Doris for a couple of days.

Buachaille Etive Beag, is a mountain which is usually overlooked because of its proximity to its glamorous and oft photographed big brother, Buachaille Etive Mor. Derided as the 'little Buachaille', this mountain always suffers from the obvious comparison, and spoken of in terms of what it lacks. I am convinced however that were it not for its glamorous sibling, (and the pairing of their names) mountain books would rave about this large, bold striking mountain; its graceful lines, stunning views, and elegant peaks set between deep dramatic glens sweeping around its sides. Several years ago I admired this mountain from the top of Buachaille Etive Mor (after a scramble up The Curved Ridge and Crowberry Tower!), and described its beauty to my wife on my return to Perth. She requested that I save 'doing' this hill until she was able to come with me.

After an amazing breakfast at our favourite hotel where we love to go whenever the grandparents want to spoil our kids, we went to Dalness to climb the hill by its steep Southern ridge. A signpost at the roadside points the way up a track which soon forks, with a leftward path heading (via two large gates in the deer-fencing), straight up the centre of the ridge. On paper it is a straightforward ascent. In practice there are two obstacles to overcome. The second is some very steeply-angled and loose scree-fields near the first summit; these took some considerable effort and determination to get across. The first was a fairly innocuous looking stream above a waterfall....... I jumped over the stream and waited for Mrs Hideous to follow suit. She looked at it and hesitated. Then she looked again, and hesitated some more; before deciding that she wasn't going to risk it. She rightly pointed out that while stream itself didn't look too bad, one small slip would send you over a good sized waterfall onto the rocks below. Brimming with the over-confidence of foolishness and the pride awaiting its inevitable fall, I climbed back down the river bank to quickly put an end to such silliness and help the distressed damsel over the stream. As I reached out to help her I was immediately swept over the waterfall, landing a few metres below on the rocks (unscathed) only to be swept down a second set landing with a bump in the river bed below. Thankfully my skeleton, my glasses, my rucksack, my trousers and my hands were all unbroken and all I was required to do was to collect the various shattered pieces of my dignity and climb back up the rocks to my very shocked looking wife. Sopping wet, and with the prospect of some rather moist sandwiches for lunch - I was glad that I didn't have my camera with me which would have been ruined. More importantly we were both amazed, and extremely thankful that I wasn't seriously hurt, given how far I had fallen.

The rest of the day was incident free- and we enjoyed the great weather, grandiose mountain architecture and a great walk out along the path through the Lairig Gartain between the two Buachaille's. The fine drive through Glen Coe, and past Ballachulish was made even sweeter with the prospect of a hot bath and fine meal to come. On 'The Marriage Course' they talk about the importance of couples making time for each other so that they don't lose each other amidst the busyness of life. Small amounts of such weekly 'marriage time' are great; but a weekend away together at least once a year is almost like a refresher course in being 'us'. I am still a bit shocked at how close my greatest contribution to our marriage this weekend could have come in the form of a cheque paying out on my life-insurance though.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Christianity and the Media

Two articles have caught my eye recently, relating to Christian faith. What has surprised me about both of them has been the unlikely combination of author and subject.

In the first one, Matthew Parris writes about the positive and observable effect of Christian faith and Christian mission. His piece in the Times is intriguingly entitled, "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God" read it here:

More recently the one-time somewhat sour critic of Christianity, A.N. Wilson (author of the book "Jesus" which attempted to 'de-bunk' the gospels as myth), has described how he has changed his mind, now believes that Christ rose from dead - and what he has observed that has persuaded him. That article is here:

Hazy Arran

From the Larne - Troon Ferry

Friday, April 17, 2009

On the road with Boris (3) John Lees' Barclay James Harvest Live at The Lowry

The grand finale of the weekend away that Boris and I had was a gig at Salford's futuristic looking Lowry Centre. Boris and I are both fans of John Lees Barclay James Harvest, whose thoughtful majestic take on British 70s rock encompasses classical, folk, hard-rock and prog elements.

Arriving early we met many other fans of the band, some of whom I have chatted to online, under their various entertaining on-line pseudonyms such as "the umpire's finger", "the poet", "madwoolyfan", and "sparkly flames". Boris surprised a few people who have been BJH fans for three-times the length of his life, with his

astute comments about the relative merits of the bands output; and his hopes for what might be in the evening's set. It was most enjoyable meeting up with all these various characters, and sharing a common enthusiasm. Boris was predictably as high as a kite, not only was this his first gig, but we had second row tickets in a sell-out performance by our favourite band!

On Sunday night, John Lees' Barclay James Harvest delivered a brilliant set of material drawn almost entirely from the bands' classic era. They kicked off with John Lees' passionate anti-war anthem, "For No-One" from 1974 - a song which showcases all the bands trademarks; thoughtful lyrics passionately delivered, layered vocal harmonies, soaring melodic guitar lines all built upon a base of 'Woolly' Wolstenholme's atmospheric Mellotron sounds.

The set included heavier numbers such as Medicine Man, once again played with in the arrangement that made it so popular amongst the bands original fans three decades ago, alongside new arrangements of numbers such as Mockingbird, and classic songs like Child of the Universe. On the more delicate side of the repertoire John's sublime Galadriel was featured as was Woolly's The Poet - as ever the prelude to the show-stopping After the Day. For an encore the band played the epic "She Said", and closed the Easter Sunday show with one of their most Christian influenced songs, the anthemic Hymn; a brilliant singalong to end a brilliant evening.

But there was more... as the crowd was filing out of the auditorium into the bar area, the band came up to say goodnight to everyone leaving. Young Boris was chuffed to be able to sit down and have a blether to the ever affable Woolly Wolstenholme. He told John Lees he'd just got his first guitar and asked him how often he practiced when he was learning. John advised him to play for at least an hour; and had a chat with him about the pain, scabs and trials of the aspiring musician. Young Boris left the place with a huge grin, and an autographed programme.

We had a brilliant evening together - a wonderful conclusion to our weekend away.

Full set-list, photos and fans reviews are on the band's website here:

On the road with Boris (2) The Imperial War Museum North

The Imperial War Museum North is housed within an amazing building in Salford Quays, Manchester. Boris and I spent a fascinating hour or so there on Sunday afternoon - but it was not quite what I had expected. As we walked to the entrance we saw an old battered Russian tank, and Boris was immediately attracted to it and asking questions about the range, power, armaments of the vehicle. This was what I had expected to find, and was prepared to follow the visit with a lecture of my own to counteract any jingoism and glorification of war. Part of this was because I had visited the Imperial War Museum in London as a teenager and had thought that the place reeked of "Hurrah for the Army, Hurrah for War, and Thrice Hurrah for dead foreigners".

Thankfully times have changed since that visit. This museum does contain a lot of military hardware, planes, bombs, uniforms, vehicles, technology and the like. These are all labelled and detailed as one would expect in a decent museum. What this museum also has is a series of powerful film presentations which depict all aspects of war. Yes, like museums of old it does contain references to the heroism and comradeship of war - recognising many acts of courage, bravery and sacrifice. However, it absolutely does not do so at the expense of considering the cost, horror, chaos and victims of war. The film clip about nuclear warfare is particularly disturbing in this regard. While it begins with the mechanics of the bomb, its development and delivery, what sticks in my mind are the remarks of the official observers of the Hiroshima blast and their description of the burning bodies of children in the boiling city.

My prepared discussion about the seriousness of the subject and the awfulness of war was scrapped - instead we had a chat about whether young Boris was OK, or if he had found it too disturbing. He was certainly affected by it, which I think is good- but not to the point where he didn't really enjoy going up to the amazing view-point at the top of the museum's tower.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Manchester Ship Canal

On the road with Boris (1)

Young 'Boris' and I are just back from our long-looked-forward-to weekend away together. We packed our stuff, he packed lots of CDs for the long journey and we went South. I drove and navigated while he fed me with his choice of music and a never-ending supply of chocolate that he seemed to have accumulated for the journey. The music choice was excellent, chosen as it was, exclusively from my collection... it might therefore be considered minority interest, but we liked it.

Travelling with Boris (who is 9) is great fun. Having two younger siblings is a wonderful thing, but also limits what he is able to do, it means listening to nursery rhyme CDs in the car sometimes, it means climbing smaller mountains on one hand but also having rivals for time, toys, attention and dominance. We've noticed that both our boys are far better behaved and much more fun, if given a break from each other. So being on the road with Boris is great.

We went down to Poynton in Cheshire and stayed with our old friends The Leese' family. It was good to catch up with them, exploit their hospitality, go to church with them on Easter Sunday morning to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and go out with them for a good curry - another of young Boris' great loves.

Little Norris has also, of course, been promised a weekend away. His choice of activity I think will involve camping, probably in the Spring.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Lowry

The Lowry Centre, Salford Quays (of which more another time)

Friday, April 10, 2009

The world's best T-shirt

I am the happy recipient of this present- maybe the best T-shirt, in the world!

Film Notes: Goodbye Lenin!

I haven't enjoyed a film as much as Wolfgang Becker's "Goodbye Lenin!" for a very long time. The story itself hangs around the unlikely premise that an East German communist falls into a coma and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Honecker and the GDR and wakes up in a unifying capitalist Germany. The doctors warn her family that any major shock could kill her - so they set about recreating the old East Germany in her apartment, unleashing an escalating and ludicrous sequence of events in a bid to maintain the pretence, which encompasses friends, neighbours, and colleagues!

The film is brilliant because it works in two ways. The plot is pure farce, and there are many laughs not least when the son Alex sets about producing fake old-style programmes to allow his mother to watch TV. On the other hand, the human emotions, family and relationship dynamics, and serious emotional pull of the acting, is convincing and moving in a way that is wonderfully un-farcical!

In one brilliant scene, the mother rises from her sick bed and staggers out into the streets to be confronted with a helicopter taking away a huge Lenin statue, which flies low past her - his outstretched arm beckoning her from the past, even as he is airlifted away! As the story unfolds, it transpires that several of the characters have also told lies with the best of intentions which have lead to whole swathes of untruths being told to substantiate them. This is all layered on the conflicting emotions the East Germans felt, as liberation was gained on one hand, but humiliation accepted on the other.

This film cleverly welds together personal emotions and big political events so that the 'lying to preserve the system' theme is practised by states and individuals alike; nostalgia for a semi-mythical lost golden age works both in the home and in the post-unification East Berlin as it lost so much employment, industry and its currency. Funny, heart-warming, witty, thoughtful and most unusual - this was two hours of excellent entertainment.

(German with English subtitles, cert 15 - presumably because of some of the language)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Boris and Norris are in a little bit of trouble this evening!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Book Notes: Total Church by Tim Chester

I have read many books about ‘the church’, from weighty academic tomes to popular critiques; from apologetics for conservative theology and practice, to emergent and liquid ‘radical’ critiques of both. Several of the most helpful ones have been biblically based and realistically helpful in terms of honing the Christian faith-community’s self-understanding and the practices which flow from it. Of all the books on this subject I have read, ‘Total Church’ is the one that has made me think most. This is not because it is a massively complex or academically dense read; but because it does not satisfy itself with the mere tweaking of the church’s performance; but to systematically challenging many of the assumptions upon which church life has been organised for over a millennia!

Chester and Timmis are advocates and practicioners of ‘household church’; in direct contrast to the institutionalised church, which they see as being an unhealthy diversion – part of the unhappy legacy of Constantine’s domestication of the church as a department of state. So far that sounds like the usual ‘emergent’ critique; but ‘Total Church’ is not so easily categorised. True there is a strong respect for narrative theology running through the book; ‘biblical theology’ is after all a story; but far from an assault on propositional truth – the authors are members of a community which is decidedly ‘word’ centred, and outwardly focussed in intentional mission, especially towards the marginalised. On page 169, they interact with post-modernity like this:

Truth is corrupted by power. The postmodern case is valid. The problem however, is that the postmodern solution does not work. The rejection of truth does not work. Truth is rejected as a tool of power. But disregarding truth simply leaves the field open to power. There is nothing left with which to resist power. There is nothing worth fighting for. The pen may or may not be mightier than the sword. But if you take the pen away, you are simply left with the sword. Postmodern people fear that truth-claims are coercive. But if you take truth away you are left with pure coercion.
The key difference about what they are advocating and the ecclestiastical norm; is that they have no programmes, no buildings, and virtually no budget – but instead everything they do is relational. They do not strive for effective delivery of slick programmes; but for open homes and community living; seeking to show the effect of the gospel of Christ upon their lives, rather than investing in persuasive advertising of well-constructed events. The heart of the vision for which they argue persuasively, is not for the growth of large churches, but the proliferation of tiny ones.

Such a vision is nicely summarised in their looking at Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which says: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” They comment:

We should be teaching one another the Bible as we are out walking, driving the car or washing the dishes. People should learn the truth of justification not only in an exposition of Romans 5, but as they see us resting on Christ’s finished work instead of anxiously trying to justify ourselves. They should understand the nature of Christian hope not only as they listen to a talk on Romans 8, but as they see us groaning in response to suffering as we wait for glory. They should understand the sovereignty of God not only from a sermon series in Isaiah, but as they see us respond to trials with ‘pure joy’. We have found in our context that most learning and training takes place not through programmed teaching or training courses, but unplanned conversations: talking about life, talking about ministry, talking about problems. Let us make a bold statement: truth cannot be taught effectively outside of close relationships…… (p115)
A final quote will help to give a flavour of the vision of the church they have the challenge it is to those of us who inhabit more traditional structures. They argue that too many Christians are burnt out by seeking to run both their lives and deliver programmes - whereas it is more biblical to live the Christian life openly in front of others... and that's the whole programme!
Church without programmes, structures or buildings can make you feel very vulnerable. Leadership in which your life is open can feel scary. But we should embrace this fragility because it forces us to trust God’s sovereign grace. (p193)
This book was a Christmas present. I was expecting to enjoy a pleasantly stimulating read. Instead it has caused a lot of heart-searching, and thinking. Time and time again I found that Chester and Timmis articulated things I instinctively felt. I wish I had read this book years ago when at college, the line which was consistently pushed was that the Reformed doctrine of the word reduced church to being a ‘preaching event’ and so inherently militated against the grander biblical theme of community. This book would have at least exposed that as a false dichotomy. There are so many more sections of this book I could quote; instead I’ll just recommend that you read it, if you care about the life of the church today.

Total Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, (Leicester: IVP), 2007

Friday, April 03, 2009


The evils that lurk in the darkest recesses of the vegetable cupboard...
maybe it's time for a clear-out!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Walk the Line

Walk the Line, is the highly acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic, starring Joaquin Pheonix and Reese Witherspoon, based directly on Cash's autobiography. It's a compelling story, which is very well told, containing an explosive mixture of fame, music, betrayal, breakdown, marriage, unfaithfulness, divorce, passion, and loaded with as many hopeful redemptive themes as it is with moral ambiguities.

Joaquin Pheonix' performance is excellent - enough of a growl for authenticity without allowing it to degenerate into a mere impersonation of this often troubled man. The relationship with his father (Robert Patrick) is well explored, as is the effect of the childhood death of his brother, in the first of many close parallels with that other recent celebrated musical bio, Ray.

Reese Witherspoon is fantastic as June Carter Cash, attractive, charming and with an uncanny ability to deliver the songs in a convincing way too. It's a shame that the script-writers didn't give Witherspoon more to work with in terms of exploring the darker side if her character, the turmoil, remorse and divorces only hinted at, where there was much more to say.

The best part of the story is the tale of how June Carter - with the help of her parents, rescued Cash from a drug-addiction fuelled breakdown which was destroying him and his career. The scene in which they drive drug-dealers away from the house at gun-point while Cash is going through cold-turkey is a great story of the protective nature of love. When Cash emerges 'clean' from the ordeal, Carter tells him, "God's given you another chance" - and takes him to church. The faith element of Cash's life and songs was strangely absent from this however, and there is little mention of the Cash who would go on to record the apocyliptic When The Man Comes Around.

The tragedy of the story is the jettisoning of Cash's first wife, Vivienne, in times of constant touring and his growing obsession with Carter. She is evicted from his life and from the film, but whose tragic desertion lingers in the background muddying the redemptive narrative with awkward complexity. We are asked to see the Cash-Carter relationship as one of true redemptive love, but asked to forget that there was a victim in the narrative too. Was there any hope or joy for Vivienne? We are not simply not told anything more.

The message the film tries to convey is of the redemptive power of true love. Cash, it seems, could only be free from his demons when the object of his infatuation, became committed to him. Pursue the infatuation at all costs, it argues, and become committed to it. Autobiographies are always self-justifying to a degree, and this no doubt colours the message. However, the film still ends up perpetuating the great Hollywood love myth; that feelings lead commitments. The truth so often is that mere states of emotional intensity are no basis upon which to shatter commitments made and forge new ones. The art of furnishing the existing commitments with passionate emotions is a more wise and tested path - and the absolute opposite of the 'Hollywood Love Myth', writ large in Walk The Line.

So this is a really good film, well made, well acted, a fascinating story well-told. It has a strong underlying current of the redemptive power of true love (Cash and Carter were married for 35 years until her death); but told through the tangled relationships and moral ambiguities of a complex man. Well worth watching.