Minister’s Blog

23 January 2018

Mary-Catherine’s mother thoughtfully ensured that the ‘Bed and Breakfast’ where we were staying had a supply of porridge oats for my breakfast. The cook didn’t know how to prepare porridge! I was going to have to teach her.

For the first two days of our stay, we fixed our own breakfast because of the snow! The cook was unable to reach us! So, I made the porridge. I read the writing on the packaging with great interest.

It was called, ‘Bolts Red Mill Organic Scottish Oatmeal’. In the top left hand corner of the package, there was a photograph and a signature for Bob Moore with the greeting, ‘To your good health!’

Underneath there was an interesting legend. ‘Many years ago, Bob visited Scotland and learned the art of stone milling at the historic, water-powered Preston Mill.’ I couldn’t believe my eyes! Hence the ‘Red Mill’ in the title.

There was more. ‘Today, Bob’s Red Mill Organic Scottish Oatmeal is produced in the same old-fashioned way …’  Can it be true that these oats are ground between two large millstones in the old Scottish way?

It seemed extraordinary to me that I had travelled four and a half thousand miles from Scotland to Texas only to discover that Bob had travelled before me at least sixty years ago to discover a secret treasured within my parish, a few hundred yards from my manse!

It was worth our travels for the oats tasted absolutely delicious – and a memory stimulated of the Preston Mill with its characteristic long arm of friendship binding Scotland to America through the gift of Scottish oats!

Minister’s Blog

Aside

22  January 2018

Although we were prepared for wintry weather, we didn’t expect snowfall on our first day in Texas! I was glad I had only brought two short-sleeved shirts!  There was  a windchill of 4′. In America, the people use the Farenheit system rather than Celsius so 4′ is 28′ below freezing. It was bitterly cold!

The snow covered the ground but it wasn’t deep. The wind and the ice were worse. Schools were closed and lots of businesses closed their doors too. Nevertheless the supermarkets were open. I couldn’t imagine such a serious response in Scotland.

Circumstances are different. In Texas, snowfall is so rare that local government hasn’t invested in the equipment necessary to maintain open roads. It is too expensive to buy snowploughs and gritters. Hence the  dramatic response to the first signs of winter!

Despite the differing responses to wintry weather, there was one thing in common. I noticed that the local television channel was making much of human life situations in which people were out helping their neighbours to cope with this sudden onslaught of wintry weather. Sometimes people just need the opportunity to do good! And that’s the silver lining!  Otherwise we would never know how good they were!

 

 

 

Minister’s Blog

21 January 2018

When I am alone at breakfast, I sometimes read a few pages from a book. Just now, it is ‘The Art of Science’ by Richard Hamblyn. It is a beautiful book introducing the reader to the original writings of the various scientists and their discoveries.

There is a chapter on Mayflies which were keenly observed by the Dutch biologist, Jan Swammerdam in the middle of the seventeenth century. As a result of his observations, he discovered that the mayfly lives for only five hours!

This surprising creature appears every year for three days successively fluttering on the surface of the water, at the mouths of the Rhine, the Meuse, the Wael, the Leck and the Ysel, about the feast of St. Olophius and St. John …’

The purpose of its brief existence is for the female to lay eggs and for the male to fertilise them. Once these tasks have been accomplished, the mayfly dies. Sad to say, the species which Swammerdam observed in 1671 is now extinct in the Netherlands because of industrial pollution!

Minister’s Blog

20 January 2018

No one is indispensable. Nothing that I do as a minister should result in the life of the congregation becoming unsustainable. I have always had a natural fear of getting into a rut and inhibiting the life of the church.

So endings are not a problem for me. But having a heart attack put me in touch with what Robert McCrum calls ‘the endgame’. Strangely enough, I didn’t find it fearful but refreshing.

Something of the mystery of who I am has been revealed in this unexpected incident and so I know much more about myself and how I am going to age over the time God has allotted to my life.

More than that, in an almost seamless way, it has opened up the reality of what happens through that door which marks the end of life as we know it and the beginning of something new!

I see a continuum between this life and the next and the aging body is a prelude not to a meaningless death but to an opening out of life into unexplored experiences which lead to the health and healing and new life of God.

Minister’s Blog

19 January 2018

Illness humbles us. I was humbled by the expertise of the consultants, the dedication of the nurses, the love of family, friends and congregation, the support of colleagues and fellow presbyters.

But, more than that, having suffered the humiliation of being carted off in an ambulance in the early hours of the morning, I have realised that I am not immune from the natural aging processes of the human body.

I have to learn to live with the possibility that it will happen again because nothing is surer – my body is wasting away. So how am I going to live with this renewed vision of reality?

The fear of rising to a challenge is a result of the risk which is required to accept it. If I do this or that, I risk being humiliated again. Perhaps I am not up to it? Perhaps people will mock me for doing too much? Perhaps it will not be worth it?

But risk-taking is also about trusting and when you are ill or grow old, you can do nothing else but trust other people. And, of course, this is what it means to belong to a community and to be truly human.

Minister’s Blog

18 January 2018

When I became ill, the most alarming thing about the immediate experience was the loss of control. There was nothing I could do to control it or stop it or divert it or ignore it or … all I could do was ask, ‘What shall I do?’

There was nothing I could do but let myself be handed over to those who had the skill and the expertise to deal with my problem. And, thank God, I never found any of them wanting!

As one who has been called to give, I had to receive – doctors, nurses, family, friends and colleagues. Five of my colleagues immediately offered to help with my work! From this perspective it was a very good experience.

As a result, I have a deeper understanding of my humanity. Through my illness, I became less of an observer of the difficulties people have and more of a participant. This was easily seen in the friendship which I experienced in Ward 103.

There were three other men – a retired firefighter who by his own confession had neglected himself following his wife’s sudden death, a former soldier whose face was buried in an oxygen mask but whose service to our country had been awarded with a military medal.

And there was the former procurator fiscal who introduced me to his minister and on leaving hospital phoned a colleague of mine who subsequently travelled forty miles to visit  me when I returned home!

My heart trouble immediately qualified me to enter this world of suffering not as a minister but as a fellow human being. And to be put in touch with the reality of what it means to be human, to suffer, to stand on the threshold between life and death and put your trust in other people and in God.

Minister’s Blog

17 January 2018

In 1972, I started studying Pure Mathematics at St. Andrews University. During the first year, I was obliged to do a ten week course in computing. In those days, the computers filled the room.

We had no hands on experience of the machines. We had to write out our computer programmes in an appropriate language, Fortran or Algol. These instructions to the computer were typed on cards and entered into the machine. Mistakes had to be corrected.

The computer was invented by the mathematician, Charles Babbage ably assisted by another remarkable mathematician, Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter. She developed the use of these cards. A computer language was named in her honour in 1979. It was called Ada.

Interestingly, this system wasn’t original to the developing computer. It had been developed for telling weaving machines in France how to create complicated patterns! If you can tell a machine how to order stitches, you can equally well tell it how to order numbers!

I am not sure whether this brilliant piece of lateral thinking came from Babbage or Lovelace but it is very satisfying to see how connections may be made between weaving and computing. But it takes faith to work on the boundaries and creativity to make the connections!

Minister’s Blog

16 January 2018

The things of the faith belong to what the writer to the Hebrews calls ‘the things that cannot be touched’. As such, they cannot be measured nor assessed by any scientific criteria.

And so they provide no competition to the other demands which we have in our lives. If we do not meet a deadline at work, there will be consequences. If we do not do the shopping, there will be consequences.

If we do not attend morning worship, there will be no consequences. If we do not say our prayers, there will be no consequences. If we do not share the bread and the wine, there will be no consequences.

The more things we do which have these obvious demands, the less time we have to participate in the things which cannot be touched. Does it make any difference to our lives whether we do or don’t?

 

Minister’s Blog

15 January 2018

When I was ill, I found myself valuing different things – simple, plain food, water and lots of it and sleep. I have always been a very good sleeper but I have never slept for the requisite amount of seven or eight hours per night.

According to one scientist who is researching sleep, the nation’s lack of sleep is reaching epidemic proportions. It is estimated that one in two people do not get more than five or six hours sleep per night.

There are many reasons for this. The world is lit up 24/7. People work longer hours and want to cram in time with friends and family. There are more people suffering from anxiety. Night shift patterns disturb sleep.

Without enough sleep, the body is at greater risk from a whole range of serious medical conditions, heart attack, cancer, Alzheimer’s, mental health problems and so on. Why should this be?

If we do not get enough sleep, then the body cannot do the work that is required to keep our immunity strong, to cleanse the brain from unwanted materials, to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and so on.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,’ writes the Psalmist, ‘eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.’ It’s not only common sense. This is how God has ordered the world.

Minister’s Blog

14 January 2018

My usual barber was busy. There were only two on the chairs and a queue. I decided to pop into the new Turkish barber and met Sel who is from Turkey. He cut my hair very efficiently. ‘Eyebrows?’ ‘Nose?’

And then he lit a taper. ‘What now?’ I thought. He waved the lit taper over my ears. The smell of singeing was almost immediate as he flamed my ears and brushed the singed hair with his hands. What an experience!

‘Scottish barbers just cut your hair and say, ‘Bye, bye!’’ explained Sel. ‘Turkish barbers do everything!’ They even celebrate Christmas. Although Sel is a Muslim and wouldn’t celebrate Christmas in Turkey, he has just celebrated it with his family in Scotland!

He was an interesting companion and provided a very swift service. I will be back again. Although, before leaving the chair, Sel showed me the celebrated cut-throat razor! They do everything!

Minister’s Blog

13 January 2018

I bought Mary-Catherine a gardening book for Christmas. It was written by the presenter of Gardeners’ World. She enjoys the show. I read a review in which Hannah Stephenson interviewed Monty Don.

He was celebrating the health benefits of gardening. It’s easy to burn up calories. The exercise is not self-conscious – bending, stooping, lifting, twisting, turning, walking reaching. All sorts of under-used muscles are stretched.

It is also good for mental health. ‘It will spur you on if you’re feeling down. It will calm you down if you are feeling agitated and make you feel rested and balanced if your mind is jumbled and all over the place – it’s a really good leveller for your mind.’ he said.

And he should know. He suffers from depression and ten years ago, he had a minor stroke. He doesn’t like to wear gardening gloves. ‘Physical contact with the earth is healing.’ he says. ‘You plant something and it has a future. It needs you. You’re investing in a glimmer of hope.’

And for those of faith, gardening puts you in touch with the gardener in Eden, the Creator God, whose purposes are fulfilled in the tenderness of his servant who will not lift up his voice in the street nor break a bruised reed!

Minister’s Blog

12 January 2018

The Guild invited me to lead their discussion topic. The National Committee selects the theme. This year, it was ‘Tackling Hard to Love Situations’. We began with an ice-breaker. Complete the sentence, ‘Love is …’ What would you say?

‘Love is blind!’ Well, Mae West had a different take on this. ‘Look your best!’ she said adding, ‘Who said love is blind?’ Others have answered in more serious fashion. ‘Love is a flower. You’ve got to let it grow.’ said John Lennon.

‘Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.’ said Mother Teresa ‘Love is not to be purchased, and affection has no price.’ said St. Jerome. But perhaps the most comprehensive answer was given by St. Paul.

‘Love is kind, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth …’

He begins by declaring that love is more important than words, knowledge, duty, martyrdom and even faith. I favour the latter. So many people do not seem to see that religion is not as important as love and loving people no matter their race, religion, sexuality and character!

The truth is that we do not see everything. It’s like looking through one of these Corinthian metal mirrors. You can hardly see a thing. But when we move from this life to the life everlasting, we will live more fully in the love of God and see ourselves and others as we really are! The last judgement!

Minister’s Blog

11 January 2018

My elder daughter sent me this homemade birthday card in the autumn. Fortunately, she didn’t put my age on it! On one side of the card, there was a leaf and the words, ‘Though it may be Autumn ….’

‘What’s coming next?’ I wondered. I turned the card over and saw this colourful tree in blossom. I think she made it from wrapping paper. There was more writing. ‘Though it may be Autumn … you have Spring in your step!’

No matter the season, there is always some joy to be found in celebrating the moment! This is a deeply Christian concept. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always!’ said St. Paul in prison. ‘And again I say rejoice!’

Minister’s Blog

10 January 2018

Although Lady Blanche was brought up in England and confirmed in the Church of England, she attended Whitingehame Kirk regularly. Seats were kept for her and the family at the long table, stretching down through the kirk for the Sacrament.

It was an alien custom to one who had regularly knelt at the altar rail to receive the Sacrament but she grew to love this old tradition. ‘Whatever you do, don’t give up the long table.’ she said to the minister.

He had asked her about getting the church renewed inside. And he added, ‘We had to do this, but, I am glad, not in her lifetime.’ Who knows, if Lady Blanche hadn’t died aged 47, we might still have the long table for the Sacrament in Whittingehame Kirk!

Because she found the truth not in the Church of England nor even the Church of Scotland but in Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, she was able to embrace a different way of celebrating and receiving the Sacrament.

And it is the bread and the wine which speak so eloquently about the grace of God. Bread and its breaking, wine and its sharing, both illuminating the mystery of the thorn-crowned King!

Minister’s Blog

9 January 2018

When I was preparing for the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, I read my predecessor’s little book about Lady Blanche Balfour, AJ Balfour’s remarkable mother.

When her children were confirmed, she gave them a ring with the word ‘Truth’ as a motto on the seal. And inside the ring, she had some appropriate words of the Gospel engraved.

She had one of her own. The words engraved in her own ring came from Jesus. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ The quest for Truth begins and ends with Jesus and the daily returning to the steadfast love of God.

Minister’s Blog

8 January 2018

This year, the division of our Christmas cards between secular and sacred was closer to fifty per cent than it has ever been. In fact, it was 60% religious and 40% secular but the division has been seventy-five per cent in favour of religious cards.

It’s not always easy to discriminate. We got eight dove cards and I put them into the religious section along with cards which featured churches and usually the ubiquitous choir boys which are rarely seen in Scotland.

This year, I thought the half dozen images of angels were becoming less convincing – ever more feminine, playful and what my mother might have called fey! The annunciation is a serious business – maybe the most serious announcement ever made!

Winter landscapes and assorted wildlife constituted almost half the secular cards. I like the winter imagery, our desert which will blossom as the prophet foretold although we have so few carols which celebrate it. ‘In the bleak midwinter, frosty winds made moan’. Well done Rossetti  and still one of our most popular carols.

Some customs never wane – the stocking hanging from the fireplace, the decorated Christmas Tree, the red pillar boxes and the robins reminiscent of the Victorian postmen. This year, the most popular carol featured on our cards was ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.

At this year’s prices, they would have cost my true love in excess of £25,000! God is my true love and his love is bountiful. But as UA Fanthorpe comments in ‘Dear True Love’:

Your fairytale presents

Are wasted on me.

Just send me your love

And set all the birds free!’

Minister’s Blog

7 January 2018

What was the Star of Bethlehem? We do not know – and we will probably never know. But the star leads us not only to the Christchild but to the wise men, the study of  the stars and the scientific enquiry which has sometimes alienated people from religion.

But science and religion complement each other. Whilst they belong to different spheres, they have one important thing in common. They both rely on faith for science is only as good as its last theorem!

As evidence is built up, theories need to be adjusted and adapted to suit the changing circumstances. The last theorem has to be accepted in the spirit of faith for it cannot be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt!

Minister’s Blog

6 January 2018 – Epiphany

One of the highlights this Christmas was the Watchnight Service. It wasn’t only well attended but it was beautiful. Two things contributed to this. The first was the light. Because we had changed location, great effort was paid to the ambience of the kirk.

Jenny cut some tree branches and decorated them with white lights. They were placed on the side walls creating the effect of an enchanted forest. Two uplighters did a stunning job in bringing out the shape and colour of the chancel roof. Candles abounded.

The second was the hospitality. There was much discussion in the Kirk Session about whether to arrange this in the Village Hall or in the kirk. In the end, a decision was made to use the kirk. Happily, it was the right one.

Quite a buzz was created inside the kirk door where people were immediately greeted with the offer of something to drink and eat. There were lots of savouries as well as miniature mince pies in choux pastry.

During the service, Lynda sang Eric Thiman’s beautiful carol. ‘Madonna and Child’ each verse ending with the wonderful recognition that the King of Kings, the God made man, the Word made flesh was ‘so sweet and small’.

This was our epiphany – the recognition that something beyond our ken had happened with the birth of a baby laid in a manger in Bethlehem, visited by shepherds and foreigners from the east with their scientific enquiry which has yet to explain the mystery of this revelation which was so sweet and small.

Minister’s Blog

5 January 2018

Angels abound in the Christmas story. The angel speaks with Mary in person and Joseph in a dream. Most famously, the angels appear in the night sky to tell the shepherds that Jesus is born in Bethlehem. They sing their famous song, ‘Glory to God, peace on earth.’ They are messengers of good news.

Later on, an angel comes to strengthen Jesus when he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup might pass from him. It was an angel who told the grieving women at the tomb, ‘He is not here. He has been raised!’

And when Jesus ascended into heaven, an angel appeared and spoke to the disciples. They were looking up into the sky in disbelief. ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven?’ It was time to go back to the city to do God’s work!

And in the letter to the Hebrews, we are encouraged to show hospitality to strangers, to make room in our lives for people we don’t know. We do this because we might entertain angels unawares.

Angels don’t just belong to the Bible. They don’t all have wings on their backs. They may look very ordinary and because of that, we may not recognise them. But we will always know when we have met an angel. They always come with good news.

Minister’s Blog

4 January 2018

When we attended the Edinburgh Triathlon on New Year’s Day, we parked the car at Duddingston and walked through Holyrood Park to the Commonwealth Pool. We stopped to look at Duddingston Kirk and its environs.

It has a very distinctive watchtower built to protect the graveyard from body-snatchers and a famous minister, the artist, John Thomson. Apparently, he called his parishioners ‘ma bairns’. Hence the saying, ‘We’re a’ Jock Tamsan’s bairns.

Next door. at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, is the only natural loch in Edinburgh. Duddingston Loch has been made famous not only because if its precious natural habitat but also because of its associations with the disputed Raeburn, ‘The Skating Minister’.

The loch looked beautiful but there was no chance that any minister could skate upon these waters. The loch hasn’t frozen sufficiently for years but the skating minister lives on in our imagination – the seriousness of his Presbyterian black contrasting vividly with his playful pink laces!

It is remarkable that one of the most famous paintings in the world and certainly the most famous painting in Scotland has only been viewed by the public since 1949 and doesn’t feature a contemporary celebrity but a minister of the Church of Scotland.

At the time, the Revd. Robert Walker was minister at Canongate Kirk and although some of his erudite sermons were published, he is not remembered for his eloquent preaching of the Word but for his playful skating on Duddingston Loch.

He exudes human warmth and joy beneath the serious, sombre garb of life’s problems. Perhaps that’s why God called him to be one of his ministers? He had such a lightness of touch! He could dance on the ice with pink laces on his feet!

Minister’s Blog

3 January 2018

On New Year’s Day, we attended the Edinburgh Triathlon. The first part began in the Royal Commonwealth Pool. I was immediately impressed by the number of people who were not only to participating  in this event but also supporting those who were  swimming, cycling and running.

Families had turned it into a day out. All ages were represented. Amongst the competitors there were the serious athletes as well as those who were keen to give it a go. I admired the older and less fit looking participants not least because I didn’t have the courage to put on their shoes.

The reception area at the Pool was comfortable and warm, the atmosphere relaxed and quietly efficient.  The competitors entered the pool every five seconds. The gatekeeper was dressed in a kilt sporting bare feet, a loud, clear friendly voice adding some detail about each of the athletes if not a welcome, ‘Good luck!’

Our younger daughter, Sarah, was number 406 so we had a bit of a wait! Like some of the more serious competitors, she didn’t wait to dry herself off before setting off on her bike – three times round Arthur’s Seat. Could there have been a more picturesque track for a Triathlon? The running followed – and so did the rain!

As it happened, she came in second amongst the women in the race so we felt our presence had been almost encouraging enough! Keeping fit, supporting one another in personal endeavours, participating in community events, celebrating the beauty of the natural world constituted quite a few worthy New Year’s Resolutions. Many people had made a valiant start!

Minister’s Blog

2 January 2018

Just before I had my minor heart attack, I was reading an autobiographical book with the subheading, ‘On life, death and the endgame’. The book itself was called ‘Every Third Thought’ and it was written by Robert McCrum.

In 1995, when he was forty-two years old, he suffered a severe stroke on his left side. His prognosis was good and he returned to work going on to become the literary editor of The Observer.

Interestingly, the inspiration for his book didn’t come from this major trauma in his life but something much less serious – a fall. On 27 June 2014, when he was almost sixty-one, he fell on the street.

It all happened in an instant and was probably caused by the vulnerability which he has experienced on his left side since the stroke. He cut his head badly and was possibly concussed. He ended up in hospital but got home that night!

The incident had a profound effect upon him. ‘Where is the life that late I led?’ he mourns quoting some Shakespeare. Intuitively, he knew that this fall marked a watershed in his life and his own sense of himself.

‘This afternoon of 27 June 2014 had witnessed a decisive personal transition: in this new world, where the endgame must be played out, nothing would ever seem quite the same again. I had survived my fall, and was still 100 per cent myself. And yet …’

This experience of falling in the street, the humiliation of being carted off to hospital in an ambulance, the sense of no longer being in control of what was happening to him had given him a view of a door through which he would never return – death.

The title of the book, ‘Every Third Thought’ sums it up for him. It’s a quote from Shakespeare again. The magician, Prospero, is talking about his retirement and says of his return home:

Go quick away: the story of my life

And the particular accidents gone by …

I’ll bring to your ship, and so to Naples …

And then retire me to my Milan, where

Every third thought shall be my grave.

Minister’s Blog

1 January 2018 – New Year’s Day

Living joyfully begins with our contentment. There are two important things which we must learn about this. Firstly, we will never be content if we are always striving to create the conditions which we would be happy to face.

Jesus says, ‘God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and send the rain on the just and the unjust.’ Misfortune is no respecter of persons. We do not live in an ideal world. We can never create our own Utopia.

If we are going to learn the secret of contentment, we must first limit our expectations. ‘In life,’ we must learn to say, ‘we will have to face all conditions and not just those we would like to face.’

But if the first thing we learn about the secret of contentment seems to limit our horizons, the second thing explodes them sky high! St. Paul declares that we needn’t be worried about things because he has found the strength to face them!

‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me,’ he writes later on. The secret of contentment is not the elimination or the addition of certain conditions. It’s not in promotion or success nor the provision of daily bread and physical healing.

No! Contentment lies in having the strength to face all conditions not in having the power to determine what conditions we would be happy to face. And so he says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’

Minister’s Blog

31 December 2017 – Hogmanay

Recently, Pope Francis was taking about nuclear weapons at a conference which included NATO representatives and diplomats from countries which sponsored nuclear weaponry.

International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation and the parading of stockpiles of arms.’ said the Pope. ‘Peace and security among nations must instead be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.’

The Pope also made it clear that he was endorsing the UN Treaty to ban nuclear weapons. It was drawn up and signed by 120 nations in the world but, of course, the UK, the USA and North Korea were not amongst the signatories.

The treaty prohibits member states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. And is in line with the current thinking of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

For the past thirty-four years, the General Assembly has consistently said that nuclear arms are theologically and morally wrong and that ownership of them is inherently evil.

Minister’s Blog

30 December 2017

On the day of my ordination a long time ago, friend gave me a book entitled, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ by Richard Foster. I enjoyed reading it at the time and have returned to it over the years. I particularly benefitted from the chapter on the discipline of simplicity. At the end of the chapter, Foster gives ten pieces of advice. This is a brief summary. What do you think about them?

  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
  2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
  3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
  4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
  5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
  6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
  7. Look with scepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes.
  8. Obey Jesus’ instruction about plain, honest speech.
  9. Reject anything that will breed the oppression of others.
  10. Shun whatever would distract you from your main goal.

Minister’s Blog

29 December 2017

Contrary to what we might think nor even expect, homelessness is our true spiritual condition. ‘We have here no abiding city but we look for the city which is to come.’

Those who are homeless have something very important to teach us. Our lives are not defined by what we may or may not have. They are defined by God and his love for us whether we have a home or not!

From this perspective, we see that we can be homeless and kind, faithful, articulate, friendly, ambitious, compassionate and so on! We can share life and give life to others for we all belong to the human race and the solidarity of having no permanent home here on earth!

 

Minister’s Blog

28 December 2017

Within a true community, there is giving and receiving. And so the Bethany Christian Trust has entitled its annual report, ‘Home-Less is More’. Every chapter reveals their understanding.

‘Homeless not Visionless. Homeless not Joyless. Homeless not Faithless. Homeless not Voiceless. Homeless not Friendless. Homeless not Faceless. Homeless not Ambitionless’.

The first chapter is ‘Homeless not Compassionless’ and tells of a woman who gave up her bed within their Winter Care Shelter for a young pregnant vulnerable girl. I wonder if her name was Mary?

Minister’s Blog

27 December 2017

Two Christmas cards – both based on original paintings, both landscapes, both set in the bleak mid-winter.

The first was a painting of Forgandenny in Perthshire – hills, trees, fields covered in pure, white snow. It had been painted by Trevor Wells and looked so peaceful.

The second was entitled, ‘Winter Storm’. The fields and hills are almost obliterated by the bitter, wintry weather. It had been painted by Craig Turpie and it didn’t look peaceful at all!

Both paintings had an unusual tale to tell. Trevor Wells had painted the peaceful Forgandenny landscape with his mouth. As a rugby player, he had been paralyzed from the neck down in an accident on the field. It had shattered his peace.

Craig Turpie was only seventeen when he painted his ‘Winter Storm’ at school. It had remarkable depth. It is one of those paintings which can only really be viewed at a distance. His youth belied an extraordinary maturity.

The work of each artist celebrates the Christmas gospel. It’s not just the wintry landscape but the surprising identities of the artists – the paralyzed rugby player creating such a peaceful environment and the teenager capturing the chaos, the fears and the suffering of a wintry storm!

Minister’s Blog

26 December 2017 – Boxing Day

In the great Advent promises, the prophet Isaiah declares that ‘Every valley shall be lifted up. Every mountain and hill be made low. The uneven ground shall become level. The rough places plain.’

After several years, the avenue leading up to Prestonkirk and the graveyard has been suitably transformed this Advent. It had deteriorated badly with several deep and craggy pot-holes which had induced at least one serious accident.

A deal was struck up between the kirk and the Council and just before Christmas, the work was made good under the direction of the Council. It is difficult enough for people to visit the graveyard without adding to their discomfort.

More than that, we strive to make the path to the kirk as easy as possible for there are plenty of distractions along the way. Our recent partnership with the Council may be a foretaste of things to come where we work together to make uneven ground level and rough places plain in other less obvious corners of our parish?

Minister’s Blog

25 December 2017 – Christmas Day

In her beautiful poem, ‘Tidings’, Ruth Padel introduces us to Robin, a forty-four year old homeless man who ran away from a brutal step-father when he was fourteen. In the tale, he eventually has the courage to enter a ‘Crisis at Christmas’ night shelter. One of the volunteers is called, Mesoma.

She’s from Nigeria and tells him that her name means, ‘God’s blessing’. She washes his long, matted, greying hair. ‘For the first time in years/ he’s touched by someone else.’ And then the poet reveals, ‘Mesoma-Means-God’s-Blessing volunteered/ at a Christmas Crisis Centre/ because her boyfriend left her.’

And you see what’s happening in the darkness of the night, the darkness of a homeless man, aged long before his years and the darkness of a woman who has been rejected in love? Do you see what is happening? It is a Christmas miracle. No, it is the miracle of the gospel.

They are both united together in their need. She is drawn to a wounded soul because of the wounds within and he is drawn to her because she sees in him a fellow human being struggling to cope. And through their giving and receiving love is brought to birth and the community of Mary’s boy child is born.