Minister’s Blog

19 December 2018

This year, I was disappointed in the number of young people who didn’t seem to know that St.Andrew was our patron saint. Anything to promote him is to be commended. So I was attracted to an article in the Courier featuring work done on the saint by Dr. Michael Turnbull.

Through his research, he has come to the conclusion that the cross of St. Andrew which Angus famously saw in the sky  preceding his victory over the Saxons at Athelstaneford was not made of cloud but of light.

He is keen to promote this in a large-scale sculpture for East Lothian, a series of art projects for schools and, most imaginatively of all, the use of the Saltire in Scotland’s official sporting gear.

 In particular, he would like to see the use of reflective, luminescent or iridescent material which would catch the light as players moved around courts or pitches or wherever. In this environment, our teams would sparkle like real stars! And why not?

I think it’s a great honour to have the first person who decided to follow Jesus as our patron saint. Of all the countries in our United Kingdom we are alone in this. It is the Church which has brought our patron saint to birth and now he safeguards its historic place in the heart of our nation.

Minister’s Blog

18 December 2018

On Sunday, the Stenton Singers gave us a treat with their ‘Carols at Stenton’. They pressed all the right buttons with Britten, Todd, Chilcott and Rutter. And started their programme with a French couplet.

They sang ‘Away in a Manger’ to the tune Normandy and sang the French carol, ‘Il est ne’ exquisitely. Their French was very good, practised well during a visit to France in the autumn, enriching and deepening friendships with another people,another culture.

Two highlights – Britten’s setting of Southwell’s poem, ‘This Little Babe’,  was very exciting and Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of a sixteenth century carol was brilliantly enlivened by the addition of three percussion instruments – drums, triangle and maraca.

Violins were woven into two other carols. Elgar’s snow falling and Shaw’s shining light were beautifully portrayed in the instrumental line. And, of course, the congregation got to sing seven carols. One of them was new and very appealing.

Lynda is sometimes referred to as ‘our glorious leader’ by members of the choir. Whilst she doesn’t aspire to divinity, her hardwork and imagination did enable us to catch a glimpse of glory in Southwell’s ‘Little Babe’.

He sees the baby challenging Satan’s fold  ‘with tears he fights and wins the field’and ‘his battering shot are babish cries’and ‘his martial ensigns cold and need,/and feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.’ 

The Singers are raising money for LORD – Late Onset of Retina Degeneration, a condition which results in loss of sight. There is a genetic component to the disease which can be traced back to an eighteenth century family in our neighbouring parish, Spott!

Minister’s Blog

17 December 2018

We had an angel in the Nativity Play at Prestonkirk this morning and four other angels at the congregational lunch. It was organised by a group of five people including Alastair, the Convener.

The others in his team had designed T-shirts for the occasion with angels’ wings on the back and ‘Ali’s Angels’ printed on the front. Some even sported angel ear-rings to finish off the decoration!

When I spoke to Alastair about it, he said, ‘I think they have too much time on their hands!’ But not too much time for a bit of fun and to pay a compliment to their hardworking convener! It turned out to be a very congenial event.

There was a splendid table of savouries and sweetmeats and  a raffle with generously donated prizes given by people with hidden wings! Young and old and in-between celebrated together and we were the better for their Christmas cheer. We even sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Sonia! Twenty-one again!

Minister’s Blog

16 December 2018

I saw an advert in the Herald the other day. You could hardly miss it. It covered the whole of page 7! It featured photographs of four rooms – a kitchen, bathroom, dining and living rooms. The company sold tiles, bathrooms, kitchens and hardwood furniture. Pretty!

Although Porcelanosa is a Spanish company, it had a Scottish address in Glasgow and a royal appointment to the Prince of Wales. So far so good – and not much to write home about except the extraordinary tag line, ‘Envy is a beautiful thing.’

Were we to look at these photographs and compare them to the rooms and furniture in our own home and through the envy which this experience was sure to arouse, feel drawn to make an unsuitable and probably expensive purchase?

For those who remember the ten commandments, this approach encourages people to break the tenth! How can it be said that coveting what isn’t ours is a beautiful thing? Beautiful to those who are going to enjoy the financial gain?

No one is exempt from envy and we do well to guard against it. Making comparisons with another diminishes both. It casts a dark shadow over the unique gifts which have been given to each. Neither is able to shine and the world is impoverished of sparkle, spontaneity and joy!

Minister’s Blog

15 December 2018

It was my turn to take the school assemblies at Dunbar Grammar. There were five of them – every morning at 8-40am. This meant I had to do my early morning walk earlier! It was very dark. I wore my head torch to see the way –  frightened the birds in the trees as I passed.

On my first day, I was met by a group of first year boys from East Linton who were keen to chat before the assembly began. On the second, a member of the office staff offered to show me round the new extension.

This was  very impressive with wide corridors, new home economics  facilities, classrooms and a tiered auditorium which doubles as social space all hosted under a lot of roof glass and plenty of light.

Every morning, I was welcomed by the new head teacher who engaged with the students at all stages with great ease. Her cheerful disposition and positive frame of mind was catching. She had a great rapport with her school.

As for the students, they were very attentive throughout the assemblies. There wasn’t a hint of disinterest nor boredom. They were fully engaged despite having to sit on the floor. We were using the sports’ hall instead of the assembly hall.

Dunbar Grammar is a good school with huge support from parents and, indeed, the wider community. It has had a history of good leadership and that inheritance is not being squandered by the present leadership team.

It’s Latin motto is ‘Non sine pulvere palma’ which means ‘No reward without effort’. Nothing worthwhile will ever be achieved without hard work. But sometimes hard work doesn’t bring its own rewards. This requires a deeper spiritual virtue which is also worth attaining!

Minister’s Blog

14 December 2018

For the past ten weeks, our younger son has been working with the Scottish Ballet in their final preparations for their tour of Cinderella. He was complementing the work of Brian Prentice, the company pianist, playing for classes and rehearsals.

So there was nothing else for it but to go and see Prokofiev’s ballet. We weren’t disappointed. Christopher Hampson, the Chief Executive and Artistic Director was the choreographer. He told the traditional tale with crispness, depth and warmth.

Three things stood out. Firstly, the  ridiculous antics of the two ugly sisters. Clearly, they were exceptional dancers for none could make a fool of ballet dancing in such a stylish way without the agility and accuracy of a true star.

Secondly, the developing romance between Cinderella and the Prince. They were exceptional dancers. As their relationship developed and deepened so the trust between them strengthened. We saw that  in the lifts and throws.

Thirdly, the beautiful set and, in particular, the abiding theme of the rose and the rosebush. Right at the start, Cinderella plants a rose on her mother’s grave. It grows into a bush beautifully filling centre stage.

The rose is a symbol of love. We know that from the days of our National Bard. And it’s love which brings redemption – assuages a daughter’s grief, rights the wrongs perpetrated against her, draws the Prince towards her and provides us with a happy ever after ending.

‘Love came down at Christmas.’ sings Christina Rossetti. It’s the predominant theme of the season. It has within it beauty as well as a sharp thorn. Redemption doesn’t come cheap but now we know it is embedded into the structure of Creation which God described as very good.

Minister’s Blog

13 December 2018

In writing about the power of logic, Eugenia Cheng draws our attention to all those people in our world who like to win arguments by shouting loudly all the time instead of thinking clearly some of the time. She argues that logic is a much more powerful weapon than loud voices and heavy metal weapons.

They don’t like the fact that in the logical world they can’t get the better of a small, soft-spoken, uncool person like me.’ she writes. ‘Because in the logical world strength doesn’t come from big muscles, large amounts of money, or sporting prowess. It comes from sheer logical intellect.’

Minister’s Blog

Add New

12 December 2018

Dick Irwin, one of our members at Stenton, has published some poetry in Scots. When I visited last week, he showed me a couple of poems he had written recently. This one had been written for the centenary of the Armistice.

A soldier who has survived the trenches and returned home thinks about the friends whom he has lost during the war. In the poem, the poet contrasts the poppies swaying in Flanders’ fields with the bluebells swaying in the glen.  He called his poem, ‘The Bluebell Glen’.

A’hint the dyke in regent style a’ rest

an’ settle for a while,

poor oot ma flask o’ nectar sweet an’

make a toast tae pals now gone,

 the names and faces, on an’ on,

they marched awa,

o what a lark, tae lay in France

an’ watch the poppies sway an’ dance,

an’ now a’ watch the Bluebells sway and

contemplate a happy day,

doon in the glen where once we’d walk,

where once we’d laugh,

where once we’d talk.

a’ lift ma flask tae hide the pain

an’ watch the Bluebells sway again.

Minister’s Blog

11 December 2018

On Sunday, we had our ‘Sing a Song for Christmas’ at Prestonkirk. The church was packed with people of all ages. The East Linton Primary School and Community Choirs were singing alongside students from Dunbar Grammar and a student from St. Mary’s Music School.

The latter played Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ on the cello. It was very moving embracing the joy of Mary’s vocation and the sorrow which was to befall her in due course. The Christchild grew up and Mary was still his mother as she stood at the foot of the cross.

The highlight of the afternoon was an extraordinary piece of collaboration between the two choirs. They sang a new carol downloaded from the internet entitled, ‘On a Christmas Long Ago’. It was written by Sally Deford.

Both choirs had learned it  separately and had two joint rehearsals in the Primary School. It was a beautiful piece in which the young voices of the children complemented the more mature voices of the adults.  The collaboration was very successful.

The adults had shown much commitment in attending school for the rehearsals. But this is what Christmas is all about – breaking the boundaries, crossing the borders, establishing new friendships not least across the generations and establishing the paths of peace!

Gloria the angels cried! Gloria to God on high! Gloria our hearts reply! Gloria!

Minister’s Blog

10 December 2018

On 27 October, Robert Bowers opened fire in the ‘Tree of Life’ Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh.  Eleven people were killed and several others injured including some police officers.

The synagogue congregation is close-knit and liberal in outlook. It is well knownin a largely Jewish neighbourhood where the epithet ‘Squirrel Hill Jew’ iswidely used  and respected.

There was no doubt that this heinous crime was motivated by antisemitism. The gunman apparently supported far-right views.  He was carrying an assault rifle and three handguns and opened fire with the cry,‘All Jews must die.’

Three things happened in the immediate aftermath. The local community gathered together in solidarity for an open-air vigil to remember those who had been brutally and recklessly murdered at the synagogue.

The former rabbi broadened the perspective and tamed  the attack with a touch of Jewish humour. ‘We were lucky,’ he said. ‘It was the beginning of services and Jews always come late.’

Some people began to talk about gun control again. Whereas we take the common sense view that if people carry guns then someone is going to get killed, people in America paradoxically  carry guns to protect themselves  from people who carry guns!

Minister’s Blog

9 December 2018

Do you know what fanfic is? John Sutherland introduced me to it. Apparently, there are numerous websites associated with authors and their books. Fans access the website and discuss different endings to the novels and ideas for sequels etc.

Apparently, there are no controls over what is said and done on the site. Whilst some of the writing is of poor quality, some of it is worthy of publication. What is important is the continuing discussion of the fans.

In a peculiar way, it is a very contemporary return to a state of affairs which existed before books were ever written either by hand or machine. When tales were told aurally there was no guarantee that one person would tell it in the same way as another.

In fact, you could say with certainty that the tales would  have varied greatly. There was a freedom in handling the tale and creativity was an integral part of it. But it seems strangely reassuring  to return to the freedom of these primal days through such a sophisticated medium!

Minister’s Blog

8 December 2018

In ‘God’s Little Instruction Book for Ministers’, it says, ‘Ideas are funny little things …they won’t work unless you do!’ Everyone has ideas in the Kirk but not many  have the wherewithal to root them in reality!

Minister’s Blog

7 December 2018

My mother would have been ninety today but she died  eighteen years ago. Her birthday was always overshadowed for her by the remembrance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour which took place on her thirteenth birthday.

It had enormous consequences. The USA entered the Second World War albeit with a fleet which had been seriously disabled. From then on, my mother’s birthday was discoloured by the enormity of these events.

But my association with this date has not been affected in this way. It will always be my mother’s birthday. Although her life was very ordinary compared to the anniversaries which mark the date, it was one which continues to enrich our lives long after she is gone.

There is no guarantee that this will happen to any of us but it is delightful to think that a life lived for others may harvest some encouragement  in a day when we are no longer around. The only way to prepare for  this  is to sow the seeds of joy, peace and love now!

Minister’s Blog

6 December 2018

Food is not the most pressing concern which we have to cope with today. Contrary to what some people may say it’s not Brexit either nor even Scottish Independence. As Neil Mackay wrote in a recent article, ‘Who cares if we are in or out of Europe if the world is starting to burn?’

He was talking about Global Warming and, in particular, the almost universal failure of the world’s news agencies to report the warning given recently  by  the  UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have  only twelve years to avoid planetary disaster!

The United Nations’ Report counsels the world’s governments to ensure that the earth doesn’t get any warmer than 1.5’C  above its temperature at the time of  the Industrial Revolution. For if it does, then drought, floods and heatwaves will cause unprecedented poverty and death for millions!

We see it for ourselves as we have never seen it before in these raging forest fires some  in Lapland, the spontaneous and unexpected flooding in several parts of the world, the drought in the sun-drenched African continent, the melting of the polar ice-cap.

In St. Luke’s  dramatic description of the Last Day, he  not only refers to unusual signs in the sun, moon and stars but also to the meteorological phenomenon which he describes simply as ‘the roaring of the sea and the waves’. But the confusion caused by this phenomenon causes the nations to be distressed!

Global Warming is surely a sign in itself of this Last Day foretold in the Gospels. It has within it the potential to mete out so much suffering to our children and our children’s children if we are not alert or on guard to avert what is happening to our world!

Minister’s Blog

5 December 2018

Our attitude to Advent is betrayed by our attitude towards food. It requires as much self-discipline as anything else. The twin themes of waiting and watching are evidently absent in our present obesity crisis.

However, there is evidence that people are wanting more information about the hidden levels of salt and sugar in foodstuffs. Kellogg’s have just announced that they are going to use the traffic light labelling system for their breakfast cereals.

It should be mandatory and not a voluntary requirement. For it helps us to be more effective in fulfilling  our responsibility to watch, to be alert to what is happening around us and to act upon what we see and hear.

Equally well, we need to nurture an inner strength within our families which is able to wait for the satisfaction of personal desire. Food is the more obvious but it is just one of several desires which we think should be fulfilled immediately.

Parents who allow their children to eat in an undisciplined way are neither helping them to avoid becoming obese nor nurturing an inner strength which will enable them to stand with their heads raised high when they have to wait.

Things do not always happen at the time we want  and so we need to become fit enough to withstand the agony of unfulfilled desire. It is a parent’s responsibility to nurture this self-discipline and food is a good place to begin.

Minister’s Blog

4 December 2018

The season of Advent encourages us to be alert, aware, awake because ‘about that day or hour no one knows’. And that day is the day of the Lord’s return.

Far from being an intimidating concept, the coming of the Lord is instructive. It helps us to shape our lives around two very important things. The first is an awareness that our lives will come to an end  and so we should live  each day as if it were our last!

This has the effect of making us more keenly aware of our priorities. Is it more important that I do this or do that? If our time is limited as it surely is, we have to make the most of it!

The second is an awareness  that the coming of the Lord brings judgement. And so we must  be timeous about making amends, completing the task in hand, fulfilling our vows, seeking reconciliation, changing our lifestyle, combating Global Warming.

So much is left undone from one day to the next – and procrastination neither lightens our load nor assuages the frustration of others. It is the fruit of a careless life which takes its days for granted and fails to count them nor make them count.

Minister’s Blog

3 December 2018

A week ago, we had an excellent discussion at the 4U Group about hunger and all the causes etc. Two days later, the Bethany Christian Trust sent me a letter  with information about the Winter Care Shelter which operates 7 days a week for 32 weeks of the year providing hot meal, overnight accommodation, friendship and advice for people sleeping rough in Edinburgh.

As you can imagine, they were looking  for financial support to help run this facility. It costs £260,000 i.e. £8,126 per week or £21 per bed space. I wondered whether the 4U Group could organise a modest fundraiser to raise some money. We had a baking stall a few years ago after morning service which raised a huge amount. £250 would provide 12 bed spaces!

So I wrote to all the parents whose children are in the group. Almost by return, I heard from the majority of parents who were very enthusiastic about such an initiative. Within two days, I had heard from everyone and was able to fix on a January date. Not only did the children express their enthusiasm for baking but the parents  were just as  keen to help.

It is very encouraging to think that at the heart of our congregation we have a group of parents and young people who are willing to respond so spontaneously and enthusiastically to an external expression of help. They bear witness to the truth. ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do to me.’ says Jesus.

Minister’s Blog

2 December 2018

On Friday, I had assemblies at East Linton and Stenton Primary Schools. It was St. Andrew’s Day and so there was no excuse to miss a golden opportunity to talk about one of the friends of Jesus who appears in the Gospels.

This is not true of the patron saints in the rest of the United Kingdom. George, David and Patrick were all saints but none of them walked the earth with Jesus. This is very special and enabled me to open the Holy Book and find out Andrew’s identity.

The Bible was read and acknowledged as the holy book for Christians. There was no excuse to deny this piece of liturgy nor to make the connection with Jesus and the origins of the church in Scotland.

Afterwards one of the teachers confessed that she didn’t know some of the things I told the children about St. Andrew. It made me even more convinced that this is a story which needs to be told and told again so that we do not lose touch with our Scottish and Christian roots.

Minister’s Blog

1 December 2018

In his celebrated, ‘Living with the Gods’, Neil MacGregor leads us to Kericho in Kenya where the bishop built a new cathedral. It was consecrated in May 2015 and sits on a hill overlooking the extensive tea plantations.

The bishop was keen to encourage a greater engagement of the people in the Mass so the cathedral was designed in such a way that as you approach the altar, the cathedral becomes wider and higher.

The idea of that was to make sure that there was the largest possible number of people around a very wide altar,’ explained one of the architects, ‘to maximise the visual and social engagement of the entire community in the focus of the Mass.’

This, of course, was a reformation principle incorporated into the redesign of liturgical space. Instead of the traditional cathedral style with designated holy spaces, the reformers relocated the pulpit not on the narrow east wall but the long south wall.

They wanted as many people as possible in the congregation to be as close as they could be not to the altar nor the Sacrament but to the reading and the preaching of the Word of God which was their ‘supreme rule of faith and life’.

It is a matter of regret that the Scoto-Catholic movement in the nineteenth century and the expansive preaching theatres of the evangelical movement persuaded so many Kirk Sessions to depart from the simplicity and wisdom of this social and theological arrangement.

It would have accommodated small numbers more easily and retained an intimacy not found so readily in churches which have become empty barns in need of another reformation if not some simple common sense.

Minister’s Blog

30 November 2018 – St. Andrew’s Day

To what extent does the religious significance of St. Andrew pass the nation by? Unlike the other nations in the United Kingdom, we have an apostle for a patron saint sharing him with Greece and Russia.

A meteorological phenomenon helped to give him this place of honour – and it is celebrated in our neighbouring parish, Athelstaneford. It was Andrew who encouraged Angus, King of the Picts to defeat Athelstane, King of the Saxons.

Confirmation of his patronage was discerned in a brilliant blue sky with a cloudy cross of  St.  Andrew. It was enough to win the battle and secure Andrew in the nation’s affections as national protector and inspiration.

His greatest gift was friendship, introducing a child, a party of Greeks and, most famously, his brother to Jesus. He is always known as Simon Peter’s brother in the Gospels, playing second fiddle to the first Pope, fulfilling a useful ministry with humility, wisdom and grace.

Minister’s Blog

29 November 2018

Concern has been expressed this week about the rising levels of obesity. 1984 seems to be a critical if not Orwellian year! Apparently, that’s when the microwave made its universal appeal and we saw the rise in the ubiquitous ready meal!

It has not only become the last resort for busy families, it has also become the first resort for older people dependent on carers to provide their main meal of the day. With only fifteen minutes of attendance allowance, what else  can be done? It’s clearly not healthy.

One consultant reported that 80% of his patients do not eat at a table. Consequently, people are eating on the hoof and not eating together. This has immediate consequences for the mental health of younger people. Where else do families take the time to listen to each other.

The marginalisation of  home economics through restrictions in curriculum choice and health and safety issues means that there is less chance that nutritional knowledge is absorbed early  and the ability to make soup, porridge and scrambled eggs becomes a universal Scottish accomplishment.

As a parish minister, I am convinced that this crisis is not so much about physical but spiritual hunger. The desire to eat so much sweet and salty food provides an immediate if momentary satisfaction for a lack of fulfilment within.

Sharing meals as opposed to eating food was a major part of the ministry of Jesus. He ate with friends and was entertained by people of ill-repute. His last supper has been immortalised in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Here food, shared in the context of a communal meal, is a means of spiritual nourishment.

One of the casualties of the frantic lifestyle of young families is the church’s education programme. It has been sacrificed on the altar of  competing interests which do not necessarily nourish the inner life. To what extent does this harvest an even deeper emptiness within seen not only in the rising levels of obesity but also the rising levels of mental health issues among children and young people?

Minister’s Blog

28 November 2018

Recently, I saw the film, ‘Mansfield Park’. It was based on the novel by Jane Austen but written and directed by the Canadian, Patricia Rozema in 1999. It deviated from the original novel in several places but in one, I thought it enlightening.

Fanny Price is on her way to stay with her aunt at Mansfield Park.  The horse and carriage stop on top of a cliff. Down below, Fanny sees a ship. ‘It’s a black ship!’ says the coachman, a ship full of slaves.

Whilst ships of slaves were never brought to British shores, it leads us to wonder why it featured at all. Then it becomes obvious. Sir Thomas Bertram who owns Mansfield Park has made his fortune on the profits of a sugar plantation worked by slaves!

Whereas Austen mentions slavery in her novel,it is never brought out into the open for discussion and comment. The film is different. At several points it becomes a controversial issue and the elder son’s dissolution  is consequent upon it.

Someone recently made the comment, ‘Behind every fortune there is a crime!’ And we wonder? Our age is not innocent. We continue to collude in the slave trade. It is all around us in human trafficking. People still make fortunes out of human misery.  Will it ever cease?

Minister’s Blog

27 November 2018

There was a  bit of excitement recently in the press when it was disclosed that Rembrandt’s thumb prints were discovered in a corner of his painting, ‘A Study of a Head of a Young Man’. I wondered why this was so significant?

I suppose it preserves in paint his unique identity. No-one else has his thumb prints and so we have a signature which can never be forged. But one of the amazing things about this artist is the series of self-portraits which he made throughout his life.

We can plot how his likeness changed as he aged over the years. This is surely a more powerful and convincing signature than thumb prints hidden in a corner of a painting no more than 25cm high? But there is more!

For Rembrandt not only painted his likeness over many years, he let us enter  his soul. We  not only see what he looked like on the outside but on the inside too. Age brought with it much suffering and with it an extraordinary dedication to his art. This, more than anything else,  is a signature which is immortal!

Minister’s Blog

26 November 2018

West Lothian Council have found themselves in a quandary about their recent policy of charging students for music lessons. When they started charging, they thought a third of the students would stop learning. In fact, it’s worse! Two-thirds have given up!

This has happened even though there is a fifty per cent discount for siblings and students who are eligible for free meals get their music lessons free! Instead of 1,128 Primary School pupils learning an instrument, there are now only 234!

This is a tragedy not only for the students and the nourishment of their souls in the days and years to come but also the impoverishment to the community. For professional and amateur musicians are supremely placed to help us celebrate  our life together.

Talking to one of the leading pipers in a local pipe band, I discovered that the band is being inundated with young people keen to learn the bagpipes. Why? The lessons are free of charge!

One can only marvel at the generous gift  of time and money which is being given to young people within our communities by these pipers. They are sharing their skills freely and wisely whilst securing the rich and vibrant heritage inherent within our Scottish culture!

Minister’s Blog

25 November 2018

When John McCarthy was unjustly imprisoned for five years in Beirut, he had a terrible experience of sinking into despair. ‘I felt that I was literally sinking, being sucked down into a whirlpool. I was on my knees,  gasping for air, drowning in hopelessness and helplessness.’

At the end of his tether, he could only think of one thing to say. ‘Help me please, oh God, help me.’ He added, ‘The next instant I was standing up, surrounded by a warm bright light. I was dancing, full of joy. In the space of a minute, despair had vanished, replaced by boundless optimism.’

By his own confession, he wasn’t a man of great faith and yet this experience gave him the strength and hope  to carry on. More than that, it gave him a memory which continued to strengthen him whenever he felt he was sinking into despair again.

Sometimes we need to get to the end of our tether and exhaust our own resources  in order to be thrown onto the resources of the living God. It’s certainly only when we acknowledge our need of God that we put ourselves in a position to receive what God has to offer. How impoverished we have been and never noticed how vital life could be!

Minister’s Blog

24 November 2018

When St. Paul wrote his beautiful ‘epistle of joy’ to the Philippians, he was in prison. In the introduction, he says, ‘I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel …’

His perspective is extraordinary. He sees his imprisonment in positive terms. Far from being an impediment to his work, it has actually afforded him an unexpected opportunity not only to share the good news with the imperial guard but also to give confidence to fellow Christians.

Place is important and what is more important is our willingness to be in that place and not to deny the opportunity which it affords by longing to be somewhere else. It’s not just about resisting greener grass but about discovering God’s  secret,  hidden in this particular place!

Minister’s Blog

23 November 2018

Recently, I visited what you would describe as ‘an old worthy’ who in old age was still as sharp as a tack. He had lived in East Lothian all his days and remembered many  characters from the past like a local minister who kept hens.

Unfortunately, the minister fell out with a neighbouring farmer. His hens often escaped from the manse garden into the farmer’s field. It didn’t go without complaint nor long term animosity! What was to be done?

The farmer decided that things had got out of hand. Instead of making complaint to the minister, he got his rifle and shot the lot! When he came to his senses, the farmer went to the manse and made his confession.

‘I think you are mistaken.’ said the minister. ‘You didn’t shoot my hens for they are all safely locked up for the day. I think you shot your own!’ And the moral of the tale? ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged?’

Minister’s Blog

22 November 2018

With the fall in membership and income,  the kirk is in a serious situation. This was brought home to us last Saturday at a conference for Rural Charges within the Presbytery of Lothian. Dr. Kenneth Fleming talked about new forms of ministry and quoted Martin Luther, the great German reformer, ‘To stand still in the life of God is to go backward.’

It is time to make some radical changes not least in our level of commitment to public worship, to our financial giving, to a realistic assessment of our resources – personnel  and property, to our vision of the kirk and its relationship to the people of Scotland, to the nurture of young people for without them, we are terminal!

If we were only concerned about the Church of Scotland as an institution, we wouldn’t have much hope for institutionally it is in serious decline. But our more important concern is with the Body of Christ, the church constituted by baptism and the universal confession, ‘Jesus is Lord!’

From this perspective, the present crisis is an opportunity to put our trust in God and through patient and diligent waiting on him to discern not so much what we should do but what he is doing within the institution and, more especially, within  the Body of Christ. And be encouraged to  join in!

Minister’s Blog

21 November 2018

We caught up with Peter Jackson’s amazing film, ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, based on live footage from the First World War and commentary entirely given to the voices of war veterans including the likes of Edmund Blunden.

Jackson employed a team of artists to add colour to the footage which was originally taken in black and white. This was remarkable. Somehow it brought a realistic edge to a documentary which could have kept the soldiers imprisoned in the past. They were alive – our own flesh and blood!

On 4 August, some men are involved in a sporting fixture with the Germans. War is declared. What are they going to do? They decide that for them, the war will not start until tomorrow. Tellingly,  we are left wondering how many tomorrows should have been secured for an indefinite postponement?

It was the teeth and the total lack of privacy which troubled me. There was no dentistry available and perhaps  teeth were not as well kept as they are now. There were no toilet facilities, private spaces just open trenches and primitive shelters with mud, water, lice and rats!

It is astonishing that so much artistic endeavour was harvested from these conditions – art, music, photography, much poetry and, of course, many collections of articulate correspondence.

The war veterans’ commentary  revealed a rare humanity – a sense of humour, camaraderie, resilience and determination to get the job done, ‘To kill the Germans!’ But when it was all over, there was a weariness of war with no animosity towards their erstwhile enemy! It was never theirs! Didn’t they suggest a postponement until the game was over?

Minister’s Blog

20 November 2018

I had read a good review about a play about Charles Hamilton Sorley, Scottish war poet. Not being able to see the pay performed, I bought the script. It was written by Neil McPherson and it has two charming characteristics.

Firstly, the script is largely based on the letters which Sorley wrote from the trenches. The other characters in the play  are his mother, Janet and his father, William, by then a Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge.

Secondly, the script is interwoven not only with photographs of contemporaries but also songs and music of the period. A singer recites songs by Butterworth and Gurney and, of course, some of Sorley’s poetry is recited too.

The play is called, ‘It is Easy to Be Dead’, a line from one of Sorley’s poems. He lacked sentiment. At one point in the play, he says, ‘I think that after the war all brave men will renounce their country and confess that they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’

With this quote from Hebrews, he puts all nationalism and even patriotism into its proper perspective. It brings division and ultimately war. The Christian way is to see our home not in a specific country but in God.

His famous poem, ‘To Germany’, was written in 1914. In the play, Charlie says, ‘It should get a prize for being the first poem written since August 4th that isn’t patriotic.’ In it he writes very tellingly:

When it is peace, then we may view again

With new-won eyes each other’s truer form

And wonder …’