A day of mixed blessings…

The fridge grave yard.

The fridge grave yard.

Today was a strange kind of day.

We have a houseful of friends coming to stay for new year tomorrow- around 25 will somehow sleep here I think. This means getting the house ready- cleaning up, making space where currently there is clutter, and stocking up the cupboards with food for the masses.

I am really looking forward to seeing friends, catching up with the stuff of life, sitting round the fire with guitars and slow walks with the kids. It is always a time of blessing.

What was not a blessing was the breakdown of the fridge freezer- full of food for the week ahead! We found a replacement, and I suppose the old one had done it’s job for long enough.

Alongside this, the lights in the kitchen packed in (transformer- now replaced) and Outlook Express has decided I am no longer to be trusted with my own e-mails, asking me repeatedly for my password. Modern technology huh?

However, one e-mail that got through was a blessing.

I had an e-mail from a guy in Chile- Chris Esdaile, who has used one of our wilderness meditations , converted into Spanish, with a group in the Atacama desert!

There are some great photo’s on Flickr– showing a very different kind of wilderness.

Technology can bring blessing then- a connection with something whole worlds away…


Wilderness on my doorstep…


I am just back from a tramp around the hills above Dunoon. Exercise, I feel, is overdue.

What a lovely day- crispy frosty grass underfoot- bogs the more friendly for a creaking coat of ice. Views opening up over the distant hills and mountains.

For those who are used to walking in England- the hills of Cowal were mad busy today. I saw more people than I saw deer! (For the record- two people, one deer.)

The downside for this lack of use is that there are few if any paths, and so progress is hard and potentially fraught with wrong turnings. Today I found the summit of Bishops Seat, cold and whipped by thin clouds. But an attempt to find a trouble free and easy descent was foiled by fallen trees and areas of clear-felled forest. I emerged very muddy but satisfied, tramping through all the clean dog walkers on the path around the reservoir with pride at my obvious adventure.

I have come to love the kind of local walking that follows a known route, then extends it into the unknown- a new peak beckoning, or a clamber alongside a burn as it forces it’s way through the forest. I do not use a map for these outings- they are of little use in the forest anyway (planting and felling changes the landscape all too frequently.) A compass is useful to ensure that a firebreak is in the right direction, but beyond that- it’s about following the nose…

And today, it was wonderful.

I know myself blessed to be able to live amongst such beauty.

Today, it was good to be alive, and easy to worship God.

Christmas through the eyes of a small boy…

Christmas has passed…

We have had a lovely time- just the four of us for the most part- a rare and lovely thing.

Today we spent pottering in the house and garden- finishing some wallpapering in our bedroom, changing some taps and stacking logs. The kids had a lazy lazy day and did not even get out of their PJ’s.

We bought Will a camera. I downloaded some of his photos. It was an interesting insight into the mind and preoccupations of a small boy at Christmas time…


‘The Project’- a Scottish festival of arts, culture and faith


Here’s a plug for The Project

Who knows where its heading- but come along for the ride! Here’s the detail;

In August this year, Greenbelt Festival hosted a conversation for anyone interested in exploring the possibility of doing something like Greenbelt in Scotland. So a second meeting took place in Perth in November to take things a step further.

So ‘The PROJECT‘ was born… an interim process of small, viral, organic events during 2009 & 2010, building to the possibility of a larger event in 2011.

These small events would allow us to flesh out what a bigger event might look like; to more immediately model the kind of thing a larger event would contain; and to build a community of folk who’d be able to make a larger event happen.

It was clear at both meetings that any future event in Scotland should have its own identity, should grow out of Scottish culture and concerns, and not merely attempt to imitate Greenbelt. Although initially inspired by the spirit that Greenbelt (and other events) manifests, ‘The PROJECT‘ should develop a distinct Scottish nature, responding to the specific conditions, context and needs of this place and time.


A series of interim events leading to a larger festival event. As yet, there’s no specific shape or clear consensus about a larger event’s length, breadth, geography or season.

Whatever we end up with would be inspired initially by the spirit of Greenbelt, but should also learn from other Scottish & European models such as Street Level, Carberry Ferstival, Kirchentag or even the Edinburgh festival, The Mod, Celtic Connections.

The ‘interfaces of engagement’ would be: arts – faith – theology – ecology – politics – philosophy – spirituality – justice… basically celebration, inspiration, irreverence, laughter, tears, questions, argument, friendship, shivers up the spine – add your own noun to the list.


The Perth meeting tasked Dot Reid, Graham Maule and John Cross to identify people who would be on an initial interim Steering Group.

There is some concern that ‘The PROJECT’ should not be owned by larger organisations, or become institutionalised. So that task brief was to identify people in terms of their interest and ability to take things to the next stage (and not in terms of being ‘representatives’ of organisations).

The interim Steering Group will organise 2 events in 2009 to bring people together and to help think through the possibilities of ‘The PROJECT’.

This group is not intended as a permanent group, but would commit to the interim 2009-2010 stage. If there is then judged to be enough energy and enthusiasm for the large event by that time, a new steering group appropriate to any more extensive undertaking would be formed.


if you want to join the community of like-minded people engaged in the task of realising ‘The PROJECT‘, you can join this Facebook group.

Or you can join a similar group on Bebo.

You can visit ‘The PROJECT‘’s interim website for details of the thinking behind ‘The PROJECT‘ and to find out about the events that will be taking place over the next couple of years.

And you can start to spread the word… tell your friends and colleagues about ‘The PROJECT‘ and get them to register their interest.

Dot Reid, John Cross Graham Maule.

The spiritual discipline of no longer coping…


If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your own pleasures, your own ways of coping, and follow the way of the cross.

Walk close with me…

If you insist on saving your life- you will just end up losing it.

You will just end up WASTING it.

Only those who are prepared to lose it all for my sake, and for the sake of my Kingdom, will ever know what it really means to LIVE…

From Mark 8:34-35.

Heres a question: Is it possible that the things we do to enable us to survive, or to socialise-even to succeed- easily become the seeds of our downfall? Perhaps the stuff that insulates us from one another, and from God?

I have thought about this a lot. It is one of those many areas where my understanding of God has been enhanced by my work with people who have mental health problems.

You see, perhaps the most influential therapeutic approach today is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT encourages us to look at the way our thoughts, emotions, actions and physical sensations interact to form repetitive feedback loops that can be enslaving and extremely difficult to escape.

That is not to say that these loops are always dysfunctional. The truth is, much of how we engage with the world about us seems to be built on these things. We find ways, sometimes at a very early age, of managing the interface with the stresses and strains of life, and these tend to just continue into adulthood. For most of the time, this is just how it is- we do not need to examine this in any detail.

One of the things that CBT therapists will look for as we try to help people are ‘safety behaviours’. These are the things we do to enable us to get through. Of particular significance, and introducing the most complication, are those things we get into to cope with SOCIAL risks- that most subtle of human response to the risk of exposure, ridicule an embarrassment.

For some people, the safety behaviours may be highly damaging- drugs, alcohol, dependency on sex, or imprisonment in abusive relationships. For some, violence and anger become their defining emotion- enabling them always to be right.

For many of us, they may include more manageable, but still potentially unhelpful ways of keeping the world at bay- food, stuff that makes us feel good for a while, possessions, the pursuit of recognition and significance…

Then there are even more of us who appear to be doing OK. We have our things, our successes, and our projects. We know where we are going, more or less, and who we are going there with. We can cope with most of what life throws at us, because we are moving on our own tram lines- we have bought a ticket, and the only way is forward…

For those of us in the latter group, it is often only CRISIS that makes us take stock.

That makes us look at the safety behaviours we wrap ourselves in, and ask whether they are worth holding on to.

When I look at the passage above from Mark’s gospel, I wonder if Jesus knew all about this. I wonder if he understood that life lived for nothing is no life at all. That life insulated from people and from God is a lesser existence. That life where safety-comes-first will only ever be half life.

So I wondered about the need for us all to STOP coping.

To stop being in control.

To step outside the treadmill of the expected, the predictable, the manageable.

Into the great glorious unknown.

Where God is.

A little chat about guitar strings…


Here;s something for fellow guitar geeks…

I have used Elixir guitar strings for quite a while now. When I was playing more regularly, this was because I tended to get sweaty hands during live performances, and a set of normal, non-coated strings would be dull and lifeless in a very short time.

As I play live only every now and again at the moment, the longevity of the Elixir strings is also much appreciated- the current set on my main instrument have been there around 6 months, whereas at one point, I needed to change them every few weeks to retain some kind of bright edge to the sound I make.

taylor_514ce_bodyAs any guitar player will tell you, that new-string sound transforms even the best guitar. My Taylor 514CE is a lovely thing, but like all proper instruments, it needs to be looked after- and nothing pampers it quite like some nice new strings…

I think Elixir strings were the first coated ones to come on the market. The coating was invented by Gore enterprises- makers of Goretex, a breathable waterproof membrane used in outdoor clothing. Someone sprayed a tough microscopically thin coating on some strings, and hey presto, they hit on something worth marketing. I have tried other manufacturers coated strings since- but I have not found them to be as good on my guitar at least.

I find them a little duller at first, than uncoated strings (I used to use D’Addario phosphur-bronze strings,- but then theelixer2 sound simply does not deteriorate for ages and ages- even as the coating appears to wear and in some cases, shred.

One problem I had with the 80/20 bronze strings- both the polyweb and the nanoweb varieties, is that I often broke strings- particularly the G strings. I questioned Elixir about this- remember that the strings cost around twice as much as uncoated strings (expect to pay about £10-£12 a set). I was told that this was not a common problem- I’d be interested to know if anyone else has experienced this?

I remember when playing in the USA, I bought a whole set of extra G strings in an attempt to keep myself going. In the end I used uncoated G strings, although some of the other bound strings would pop from time to time…

Elixir have recently started making phosphor bronze coated strings, which are often even more expensive- but I think, worth the money- for two reasons- they sound even better, and I have not had the same problems with breaking strings.

Perhaps if you ask Santa nicely…

The fragile tent Christmas card…

To all of you who read this blog- friends, people who I know through cyber space, and others who stumble across it…

Happy Christmas!

Whatever this season has become, 2000 odd years after the birth of Jesus- may you know blessing.


Evening draws in closer

Frost, it hangs like lace

Tired leaves brown and speckle

Then slowly fall from grace

It seems that spring is shackled

Summer never more will show her face.

In days like these when darkness seems

To swallow light

I offer you, my friend, this blessing.


God with us.


Community puzzle… the meaning of Christmas.


I am part of a Christian arts group called Aoradh– a small group of people who try to be creative in our celebration of faith, and our engagement with our context.

Today we set up shop in a the Crown Court Cafe Bar (thanks Brian!), and invited people to take part in a Community puzzle.

This meant going round local shops and businesses, as well as stopping people in the street, and offering them a blank jigsaw piece, and asking them to decorate it somehow with something that represented their view of Christmas.

We also used this as a fund raiser for the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS). It looks as though we made about £500!

Here are some pics;

Missional- how is the word bedding down?


So, now that the M word seems to be supplanting the E word, how are you with it?

(See here and here for earlier posts.)

I tried a google search on ‘missional’ today. A couple of years ago, it was a rarely used word, but no longer. Now there are hundreds of ‘missional church networks’, ‘missional projects’ and ‘missional training’ opportunities.

And I confess to a rising cynicism.

Why is this, I wonder? Time for a list…

  1. What does the word mean? It’s application seems so broad, and to be adopted by such differing organisations. Perhaps it has value as a noun, but not as a verb, which it seems to be becoming.
  2. The people in my group cringe when they hear it used.
  3. Is it about money? Do those who hold purse strings like the word?
  4. Is it about fashion- the next new thing? If so, it might be that we use it to fend off our insecurities, by giving the illusion that we are forging a path of significance…
  5. Is it about a retreat from the controversy that the words ’emerging church’ seemed to attract? If so, it seems a little cowardly- even unmissional (Aghhh! The word gains another incarnation!)
  6. Perhaps I am still missing the words ’emerging church’. For a while, they represented something that was precious to me.

Then there is the root word- MISSION.

It has many other connotations;




It may be that I will come to value this word much more, given time.

But lest it become a distraction I am going to forget about labels for a while and try to concentrate on the important stuff…