The hoards massing at our borders…

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I have just listened to a news item about the ‘Migrant Crisis’ in Calais. The language used made me feel a bit sick. Apparently the migrants ‘stormed’ the tunnel terminal and ‘overwhelmed’ the customs officials who were ‘engaged in a constant battle’.

What struck me was this; the narrative we are being given reminded me of those ‘Star Ship Trooper’ films in which hoards of non-human insects (Migrants) are massing to overwhelm the poor humans (us)

This version of the story is unrelentingly one-dimensional. It plugs in to our deepest fears in exactly the same way as films about invading insect killers. The implication is that we are under threat- our homes, our children and our individual security is directly at risk. The outsiders have no story of their own that is relevant here- they are less-than, not-human, evil and malevolent.

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This narrative fails on so many levels as an adequate way to describe what seems to me to be happening in Calais;

  1. Perspective- last nights events involved around 150 desperate people. They were not an army, they had no claws or tentacles. They want only to find a better life for themselves and their children. There will be far more violence each evening in the drinking zones of our cities.
  2. The meaning for our comfortable lives. What does it say about our world that the huge inequalities and conflicts can stimulate such acts of desperation?
  3. What is good and what is evil here? There are other narratives that might shed light- the story of the pioneers who seek new opportunity in another land.
  4. Or an understanding of the legacy of Empire and the continuing enforced North/South inequality that sustains our own lifestyles at the expense of those parts of the world where the ‘others’ live.
  5. The operation of international capital that rewards the very few at the cost of the many.

Perhaps more than all of this however is the fact that when we treat the outsider as less than human, we too lose our humanity. We are diminished.

People like me, who have tried to understand the world in the light of the stories told about Jesus, have a particularly pressing need to watch for narratives like these. We are are called always towards the other; to seek ways of understanding, grace, engagement, love. This narrative takes us in a totally different direction from the one described above.

Firstly it should perhaps force us to reconsider our own feelings of fear and threat and to place them alongside the manifest unfairness and heartbreak that others are experiencing right on our doorsteps.

Next we should look for the real stories that are being lived by the other- those making incredibly perilous journeys (as humans have always done) towards the hope of better lives where they and their children might flourish. Some of them are fleeing oppression, violence and poverty. Others are educated with gifts and abilities that might be desperately needed within our stagnating aging population.

Finally, we should always resist the voices that demonise and scapegoat the other in order to achieve their own narrow political agendas. There seems to me to be a lot of this around at the moment and there are plenty of warnings from history of where this kind of thing leads.

Garden deer, the new generation…

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Will spotted it first; a tiny shape nestled into the hedge.

S/he staggered on ungainly tiny legs, watched from distance by an anxious mother before settling down, quivering slightly, over-reliant on speckled disguise.

Botanical…

Spring 2015

I was in Edinburgh on Sunday with an old old friend, Simon. We were there to take Will to play cricket- a region match, West Scotland against the East. West won easily thanks to a century from one of the lads. Will only bowled 3 overs (1 for 11.)

Simon and I found time to walk the streets of the posh part of the city. It seemed like a place in a country I did not recognise; massive houses, posh cars, private schools (we were overshadowed by the massive gothic confection that is Fetters College, Blair’s place of unfortunate education.)

We stumbled across Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and as Simon is a Landscape Architect by profession we had to go in. Not that I minded- I love gardens. I love the tranquility that an organisation of green things can convey. It was a lovely thing to do- walking round the place with my old friend, not needing to worry about silence but still quick to find slow moments of humour. It was hard to escape a slight feeling of unreality though- all the plants are imports, aliens, refugees, asylum seekers. Some were stolen by Victorian plant hunters and collected for their sheer weirdness, even though their survival in this new climate required a vast heated glass house. In the midst of those wealthy tartan streets it was easy to empathise.

The gardens are free to enter, although you have to pay to go in the glass houses. It is worth it though. (Locals to Dunoon- you get in free if you are a Benmore Garden ‘friend’.)

Losing our compassion…

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The election is over and they won.

I am not quite sure who ‘they’ are any more- but I know them when I see them, I know them when I hear them. They are the ones who have an agenda that is motivated by many things but whose compassion is buried deep; it is not entirely absent, but is nevertheless entirely subordinate.

We have been fed a great deceit; that in a time of austerity, self interest is the only logical path. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that efforts towards social justice are politically naive, as the poor only have themselves to blame. We have been convinced that the heroes of our society are the ‘wealth creators’, whose laudable desire to accumulate is the only social good that matters. The outsiders? Keep them out. The sick? Let them suffer quietly (and cheaply). Those fleeing violence and wars and poverty from other parts of the world? Not our problem.

So it is that our leaders are about to do away with the Human Rights Act- who wants Johnny Foreigner telling us what we should or should not be doing to the weakest in our society?

So too are they going to find ways of cutting £12 billion from our welfare budget- at a time when our population is aging and suicide rates are on the rise from all sorts of brokenness at the cutting edge of austerity. (Remember that only 6% of Welfare is spent on unemployment benefits. Pensions are by far the biggest share.)

Up here in Scotland we can feel slightly smug- after all, a surge of left leaning politics means that we are different. Except this difference comes at a cost- the old cross-border alliances are broken.

It is all about leadership, some say- we chose the wrong man, perhaps the wrong brother. He did not get his message across. Perhaps not, but I find myself wondering again- where did the compassion go?

I will not believe that this is the best we can do. I will not believe that self interest is ever the route to happiness and healthy societies. It walls us off in our small private spaces, counting each precious pinched penny and jealously guarding every inch of privet hedge- as if this was the way that life could be measured.

Christians should know better of course- we have read the beatitudes, but set them aside in favour of a twisted version of John 3 v16. We pretended that sober respectability equated to a very suburban kind of salvation, forgetting that our Saviour was homeless, workless and consorted with all sorts of unproductive people reliant on benefits and charity for their daily bread. Forgetting that at the end of the day, only three things remain; faith hope and love…

And the greatest of these is love.

Wilderness retreat pictures…

Looking back

We are just back from our annual Aoradh Wilderness retreat. This has become the highlight of my year for a whole variety of reasons; the chance to be deliberately reflective and prayerful, to share a beautiful place with others, to make new friendships and to reconnect with old friends.

A few days before I went I was rather dreading going though- I was extremely busy, chasing myself in all directions to try to pull things together for work, for various cricket matches and for the plans for the weekend. Several people were not able to come leading to the last minute scramble to make sure transport arrangements were viable. All of this meant that actually all I really wanted to do was to spend the weekend at home in front of the TV. However, the island cured all of that…

This year I had decided to give Cara a try- an island just below Gigha- but the weather meant that a risky transfer from boat to tender to beach was just not sensible, so we defaulted to an old friend, Eilean Mor in the MacCormaig islands. I have been there many times now and as it is such a tiny island I have come to know every inch of it. As Crawford said however, after the slight disappointment of not going somewhere new, this familiarity helped some of us to wind down and just settle into the lovely place.

The weather was foul for some of our time there too so the fact that Eilean mor has a bothy turned out to be something of an advantage. The other low point of the weekend for me was that I decided (for the first time) to take an air bed. I was the oldest there after all so I felt I had earned the right. Unfortunately I failed to ensure it was not punctured and like my dreams of comfort, it surely was. Not even a valiant attempt to mend it with melted plastic was able to solve the problem.

The weekend was really wonderful however- I laughed so much it hurt and had some really lovely conversations, both earthly and heavenly. There was much profanity, no small amount of flatulence and food was abundant. The otter was glimpsed by most, we took in a sea eagle or two and our wildlife experts had much to inform us of.

Thanks friends for our community and our shared journey- particularly those who traveled far (in a breakdown truck!)

Blogging Holy Week; Resurrection…

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So, here we are dear friends, after a sun drenched Easter Sunday. All things are possible. The death that swallowed light and life is over and new life has come.

By way of proof of this, Michaela and I spent our Easter Sunday on Inchcolm Island in the Firth of Forth, visiting the ancient Priory and soaking in the peace of the place, despite the tourists with their selfie sticks and the constant noise from the kingdom seagulls on the cliffs above.

The Priory is full of small spaces of life and worship, mostly intact but in places with half a vaulted ceiling curling like a waving hand to the years now past. Years full of all sorts of history, but speaking to us of a time when people thought that one of the prime responsibilities of Christians was to set themselves aside to pray- to pray for the success of the harvest, and the health of their Kings and the productivity of their Queens. To pray for success in fishing and victory in battle. They were the beating heart and the spiritual voice of their age.

I make no value judgement about the spirituality that these men lived their lives by – after all mine is surely just as compromised by my own prejudice – the question for me is for we people of faith to consider again what might be the beating heart of our own age that we need to tune ourselves to, and the spiritual truth that we should seek to voice.

For this has to be our quest, to bring the essence of what we are to Jesus, and allow this transformative encounter to lead us outwards on a new mission; not the mission of a previous age, or the mission that belongs to others, but our own mission. Our own small, humble, broken, imperfect crusades (minus the sword and spears).

They are building a new bridge over the Firth of Forth. Giant new towers are thrusting up from the river bed and cranes are raising and lowering the girders and vast bucket loads of concrete. However all this is happening in the shadow of two other bridges.

There is the famous Victorian iconic masterpiece that we all know the shape of so well. It still carries rail traffic but it was not sufficient to meet the needs of modernity, so the Forth road bridge was erected, still carrying thundering loads of lorries and crowds of commuters, cursing as they inch to work through the rush hour traffic. This bridge is showing its age, hence the requirement for a replacement.

All of which is my (rather laboured) way of offering a prayer that on this Beautiful Easter day, the foundations of many a new bridge might be laid, over which we might travel together to new peaceful places. For what else might new life be for?

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