Fatherhood; compassion and competition…

cricket bat, wallace monument

I played a cricket match yesterday- nothing unusual about that, I play a couple of matches most weeks at the moment. It keeps my aching bones lubricated and more importantly, allows me to spend some time playing sport with my son Will. I am acutely aware that there is a narrow window in which we will be able to do this as he is getting better and better, whereas my already limited abilities are being further eroded.

Until very recently, Will has been the rising star in most of the games he plays. Old men purr at his potential when they see a forward defensive stroke to a fast bowler, or in particular when this diminutive lad runs in and rips a leg spinner past a startled batsman. But despite his potential, until recently I usually did slightly better in the runs and wickets tally. This is changing however.

A case in point was yesterday. I went out to bat at number three and was run out without facing a ball (not my fault this time though- suicidal call from the club president!) I was not asked to bowl either, mostly because Will set about demolishing the opposition, who just scraped over the line to beat us after he had claimed 5 wickets for 49 off 13 overs. Half the balls he bowled beat the batsman who had no clue which way it was spinning.

Whether or not you understand what on earth I am talking about I am sure you get something of the way that this impacts on the relationship between father and son. Sport, as it often does, becomes a litmus paper for real life- it is hyper (un)reality in a world where everything else seems so darned complicated. It is also a way men and boys can express emotion which culture otherwise renders taboo. We are a family who try to transcend this taboo but still we are affected by it.

So, out on the field, between us there has been;

The Father who pushes, cajoles, encourages, who is a safe team member. The father who can hear all the lack of confidence, the upsets, the unjust umpiring stories etc…

The Father who is a role model, and against whom one measures performance. The Father who has to be defeated, overcome, surpassed…

The Father who is an embarrassment because he does awkward things, or because he shouts stuff that should be left unsaid, or because he is just there…

The Father who fades into the past, who watches from the outfield, from the pavilion, from the distance.

It is the natural order of things. It is as it should be. We have a journey yet to make, Will and I- but it will be no longer as immediate, no longer so dependent.

At least not today, tomorrow may well be different. That is the other thing about Fatherhood, it seems to change all the time. At one point we are on the verge of being adult companions, then we are back to adolescent discipline routines. One day I watch a carefully compiled innings, rich in ground strokes, then (as yesterday) I watch him run impetuously past a spinning ball to be stumped.

I think I have now flogged enough from this analogy, for today we play again- me with my sore ankle, dodgy back and strained thigh muscle. I will forget it all though in the curve of the ball and the joy of fatherhood.

Nowhere to lay his head…

Continuing in the way of photograph related meditation materials, here is a photo that combined two themes in my head.

The first one was the on-going debate in our lives around the place that houses have taken in our zeitgeist. Of course was all need a safe place to live and share lives- this is way up the list of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Without this we human beings start to come apart at the seams. However, we have elevated this need to something that can only be described as narcissistic obsession. You might even say addiction.

House prices continue to shy rocket, likely putting home ownership out of reach for most of the next generations. But our culture continues to sell us an idea of the perfect house, with the perfect garden, in the right location, near the right schools as the route to the ultimate happiness and fulfillment. It is not.

Happiness and fulfillment are held somewhere in the middle of a tension that include a life lived for something, in community with others, whilst feeling loved. Sadly, our house obsession, which is so me-first, in my bubble, behind my fences, seems to mitigate against this so often. We become people who have to work like dogs to afford the maximum mortgage we can scratch towards, and at the same time the scale of our possession seems to breed fear and suspicion, often between neighbours.

The other thing the photo takes me to are the words of Jesus, who as usual has things to say that directly challenge us in our soft underbelly. In Matthew’s gospel there are stories of how people would come to him, asking to become one of his close followers. They were used to a rabbinical system in which Rabbis chose their followers from the best of the best, and sought to school them in their teachings. Jesus seemed to choose the worst of the worst as his followers of course, but the way he sent some of the more eager high achievers on their way still brings us up short. It was another of those ways that he turned the understood order of things upside down. Here is the story;

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”


Matt 8, NIV

What is going on here?  A man asks for something, but Jesus answers him with something that appears unrelated to his request. The Message version of the bible paraphrases the same passage like this;

18-19 When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

20 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

His words seem harsh, but the message seems to be entirely in wider context. Do not store up comforts and treasures for yourself- this is the route to brokenness and separation. If you live like this, it will all go wrong. If you want to live like me, the road will be long and often uncomfortable, but you will be fully alive.

What does this mean for me as I put my house on the market? What next? What roads will open up and will I dare to walk them?

Here is the photo.

seagull hotel

A tale of two churches…


I took two photo’s on holiday that reminded me of the changing nature of church.

Church at the heart of community, at the heart of governance, at the centre of society; once people could not imagine a time when this was not so. Church buildings were the largest and grandest in town and stood looking down on us, mostly benignly, but sometimes in condemnation. Church was constant, unchanging. Church knew best, and our role was not to question, not to think for ourselves, not to make our own faith journeys- these were already mapped for us.

Some people saw these churches as representing all that was wrong with faith. They had discovered the Bible, and wanted to interpret it for themselves. It was theological and political dynamite that split families and communities. Thousands of people died in the resulting truth wars.

The trouble was, each interpretation of the Bible came to be challenged by another, and another. New chief-interpreters rose, started movements, then faded away. The most lasting of these movement became denominations, inspiring and converting people to their cause, winning people to their Jesus’s.

But the new kids have run out of steam for the most part. Their club-ish brand of religion, characterised by hard unyeilding edges to every question, has left most people uninterested and unmoved.

Strangely most of the old church buildings are still there, still being used- albeit it sometimes feels like they operate as a museum for past faith, attended by a few who are historically minded.

The churches of the modern era have not always fared so well. They are now often made into carpet warehouses, restaurants, storage units, or perhaps they are converted into that most post modern icon- the posh house.

Here is one glimpsed on a Scarborough back street. The thanksgiving gates have been firmly closed;


Alternative holiday pics…


We are just back from our holiday.We had 5 nights in Filey on the Yorkshire coast- handkerchief sunhats, donkeys and the waft of fried food and slot machines in the sunshine. It was lovely. We walked a lot, swam in the sea, played beach cricket and ate far too much.

Michaela takes family photos by the dozen and uploads them to FB, so rather than adding to these, here are a few of my more whimsical efforts;

IMGP6549 IMGP6514 IMGP6516

Let the heart create for us…

Michaela bought me a present- a book I had loved in a former life and then lost/loaned.

It is this tiny book by Michael Leunig, written back in 1991;

the prayer tree, leunig

It contains one of the few poems that I can recite by heart- “When the heart is cut or cracked or broken, don’t clutch it, let the wound lie open….” I have quoted this previously here.

Today, with thanks to Mr Leunig, (and my lovely wife) I offer you this;

God help us to live slowly

To move simply

To look softly

To allow emptiness

To let the heart create for us


And for those whose heart is not quite ready to create, perhaps this will help you realise that you are not alone;


The forgotten histories…

Kilmore Chapel, Strathlachlan

Michaela spent a few days out at Castle Lachlan, the other side of the Cowal peninsula. They are doing a lot of work to reveal the history of their castles, including the romantic ruined one, and as part of this they had a festival, full of Lachlans from the world over, all back to soak themselves in the ancient bloodlines of their ancestors. And hopefully to buy a few local arts and crafts…

craft tent

Castle Lachlan was apparently wrecked by a ship sent to cannonade it after the Battle of Culloden- the Lachlan clan having picked the wrong side. We know little about what actually happened, because history is told by the victors, and then mostly only about the rich and powerful.

I was reminded about this again as today I was playing cricket this side of Cowal- at the site of another pair of castles- again an old ruined one and a replacement Victorian one. This was Castle Toward. Here we are in front of the new Castle;


We all know about one Highland Massacre- the one in Glencoe in which 38 people were killed after offering hospitality to their murderers. Most have heard nothing of the one that was perpetrated on the men women and children of Toward in the brutal years around the 1745 rebellion;

Sir John Lamont, 14th chief, who had been knighted by King Charles; was pressured into joining Argyll, the Campbell chief and his Covenanting army in opposition against the King during the 17th century wars of Montrose. After the defeat of Campbell forces at Inverlochy, Sir John was taken prisoner and later switched sides opting to support Montrose and his general, Alastair MacDonald (MacColla), a bitter enemy of the Campbells. MacDonald along with Highlanders and Irish mercenaries, crossed Loch Long in boats provided by the Lamonts and landed at the Point of Strone. After defeating a Campbell force, Macolla’s army mustered at Toward and then decended on the Campbell lands. The Lamonts had their share in killing and plundering particularly in Strachur and Kilmun before returning home to Toward. 

In England the King surrendered and ordered his supporters to lay down their arms and cease hostilities. The Campbells took this opportunity to surround the Lamont castles of Toward and Ascog. Unable to withstand a long seige and with no hope of reprieve, Sir James surrendered the castles, having apparently reached honourable terms. The Campbells later ignored the terms of capitulation accusing the lamonts of being traitors, unworthy of terms.
The Lamonts where bound and kept within the castle, during this time several women were murdered. The survivors were taken by boats to Dunoon and in the church were sentenced to death. A large number of Lamont men, women and children, were shot or stabbed to death and they did ‘cause hang upon ane tree near the number of thirty six persons most of them being special gentlemen of the name of Lamont and vassals to Sir James’. the half-hanged men, both dead and dying were buried in pits. Sir James and his brothers were kept prisoner for five years and it would be 16 years before the ringleaders of the massacre were brought to justice and Sir Colin Campbell beheaded. 

The exact number of people who died is not known, but it is thought to be well over 200.

It strikes you- the uses we put our history to. It is a matter of how we employ it, who controls how we see it.

There is a lot of history being conjured up at the moment, because of the independence debate. The grubby awfulness of these fracture lines that are just below the surface of the Highland/Lowland relatively recent history are not relevant to these debates because they can not be easily applied to a binary Scotland/England simplistic version of history.

I fear these simplistic histories. They tend to ignore the small people, and the mess that power mongers make of it all. We are diminished by them.

So the next time we stand in the romantic ruins of a castle, perhaps it is worth remembering that we are still building them, and others are planning to knock them down. Small people will probably get hurt, but no one will remember their names.