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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Blogging Holy Week; Good Friday…

Carved stone cross, crucifixion, detail

Today marks one of the pivotal days within the Christian calendar so lets pause and dwell for a while on the story we find ourselves part of…

The scandal of the cross.

The unreasonableness of the cross.

The injustice of the the cross.

The laying down of all power and majesty; the ultimate vulnerability of the cross.

The end of all hopes on the cross.

The defeat of the cross.

The humanity of the cross.

The mystery of the cross.

The enduring symbolism of the cross.

ancient cross carved inside the hermits cave- 7th C

Perhaps too it is appropriate to personalise this story a little more, and ponder again how it relates to us; to our lives, our small stories.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with the atonement theories that I grew up with- if you are interested, some of my thoughts about all this can be read here.

Rather I find myself returning to another old word- redemption defined thus;

1.

an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.
2.
deliverance; rescue.
3.
Theology. deliverance from sin; salvation.
4.
atonement for guilt.
5.
repurchase, as of something sold.
6.
paying off, as of a mortgage, bond, or note.
7.
recovery by payment, as of something pledged.

Somehow, I am being redeemed. How and why I am not sure, but nevertheless I chose to believe that engagement with the love and life of Jesus changes, restores and rescues me so that the man that I am is both more and less than I was. I also know this process to be necessary and incomplete.

Today I will carry a small cross, not because I believe myself to be a finished article, but because I know myself to be needful of redemption.

May you carry yours also.

Blogging Holy Week; Maundy Thursday…

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The Queen will toss out a few specially minted coins today as a symbol of charity to fellow man. Of course, she can afford it.

The origins of the word ‘Maundy’ seems to be obscure, but one thought is that it derives from the Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” which many of you will of course already have correctly translated into these words from John chapter 13;

 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this shall men know you are my disciples.’

The story goes that Jesus gathered with his friends for a last meal together. One of them was going to betray him, another would deny him before the night was over. After all the parables and obscure teachings he offered something unequivocal. He distilled his hopes for his friends into this one simple phrase. He demonstrated it as well by washing their road stained feet.

So many things he could have said- stuff about saving souls, striving for correct doctrine, worshiping correctly, fighting to defend the faith, condemning sins in society etc. All those things that seem to have become the preoccupation of his followers over the years; he chose not to mention these.

So, how do we demonstrate love for one another? What does this look like? Can we or others really recognise it when they see it?

I think of my own community- a loose ragged group of people on a parallel journey. Our love is sometimes tinged with irritation, pride, ignorance. There are often undercurrents that even when unacknowledged leave a stain on our gathering.

But gather we do. We eat together and share lives. In spite of all our busyness, we remain faithful to one another. The quality of our loving is imperfect, certainly less than Christ-like. I fear it might not be convincing to others who might observe from the outside.

And yet- what we have in this gathering is so much more than many others that I know. We have become so separated from one another. Human contact is increasingly excarnate, more like a software interface.

May this Maundy Thursday offer places of connection. May it be a bowl in which you are held in love.