On growing things…

We have been doing a lot of work in the garden in the last few months. We had two rough aims- one was to create an outside social space- we were inspired by the Quiet Garden trust, and hope still to offer the garden as a space for others.

The other aim was to start using the green space we have to produce our own food.

And things are growing! We have already been harvesting our own salad- lovely green leaves, radishes and spring onions. And all sorts of other things are shooting upwards…


We are very fortunate to have the space to think about these things, but the thing about gardening, is that it is very hard work! We have had a gloriously sunny weekend up here- and although I spent a few hours cutting the grass, to be honest- the dilemma I have is rather summed up in this picture below-


I came across this clip on you tube the other day-

Our friend Ali is doing battle with Argyll and Bute council to try to get them to fulfill obligations to provide an allotment site in Dunoon. How do you fancy a plot like this one Ali?

Grace, ungrace and brokenness…


For a day job, I manage social work services for people with severe and enduring mental health problems. For the last twenty years I have been a mental health worker and therapist, working in hospitals, GP surgeries, prisons, day centres and clinics.

Even as I have become very frustrated with the nature of organised social work- the inevitable beauocracy, the compartmentalisation of humanity, the feeling that we police people, but do not really help- I have continued to be driven by the hope that broken people can mend.

And the conviction that comes from my faith that people forced to the edges of society by their experience of life can teach us much about our own experience, and in meeting this, we meet Jesus.

I found Philip Yancey’s wonderful book ‘What’s so amazing about grace‘ really helpful at a time in my life when I was struggling. One of the concepts he introduced was the concept of ‘Ungrace’.

Grace is not easy to define but we usually recognize it when we see it. Yancey describes it as `the last best word’ of the English language because in every usage it retains some of the glory of the original. His story-telling style takes `grace’ from a religious context and puts it in the market place, moving it from theological discussion to practical application.

What is obvious to me, is that as we develop as humans, the soil we grow in can be full of the nutrients of grace, or poisoned by a kind of toxicity that can put a stain down generations… you could say that people are grace-impoverished, living in the shadow of ungrace.

That is not to say that this is the only formative or defining force that is acting on us. Illness sometimes just IS- with no clear causal factors, and equally, some grow strong out of dreadfully difficult situations. Grace is built into all of us somewhere deep down.

Today was a fairly typical day, this morning in an Adult Protection meeting, discussing a man who has mental health problems, but is killing himself with drugs and living in squalor. And when you look at his earlier experience, it was easy to see why. In the afternoon, I chaired another conference on a woman who had been admitted to hospital after a fall, but seems to have rapidly deteriorating dementia. A life unraveling after broken relationships, isolation and depression.


Yancey describes our world as being `choked with the fumes of ungrace’. But, he adds, `occasionally a grace note sounds, high, lilting, ethereal, to interrupt the monotonous background growl of ungrace’.

Grace comes from the outside as a gift.

Grace billows up.

Grace happens.

As for me- I listen for those grace notes.

And hope that I might learn to echo them…

Melvin does St. Paul…


Ah the joys of Radio 4.

If any experience refines and celebrates my sense of connectedness with the place of my birth, it is listening to Radio 4. And because I am often on the road driving around Argyll, the station has become my faithful traveling companion.

This morning is a case in point- Melvin Bragg speaking to theologians  about the impact of St Paul on western civilisation. You can listen again, or down load the podcast here.


Baby Peter- the debate continues. Who could/should have saved him?

A little lad for whom it is all too late...

A little lad for whom it is all too late...

So, yet more discussions in the media over the last few days about the terrible death of little Peter, earlier known as ‘Baby P’.

Like many others, I have been following this story closely- and have posted thoughts on the issue several times. Earlier posts are here, here and here. This will be my last reflection…

So what has been going on?

It was the turn of the health authority to answer hard questions about its contacts with Peter and his mother. This from here.

Health workers missed dozens of opportunities to identify abuse being suffered by Baby P before his death because of “systemic failings” in the care given to the child, an official report has found.

The inquiry into NHS failings, conducted by the Care Quality Commission and published today, concludes that doctors and other health professionals had contact with the little boy 35 times but every chance to raise the alarm was missed.

Any one of these professionals could have picked up that he was suffering abuse if they had been “particularly vigilant” and gone “beyond what was required” by the system, the health regulator said.

The report talked about staff shortages, inadequate training, delays and poor communication. The General Medical Council has suspended from practice Dr al-Zayyat and Baby P’s family GP, Jerome Ikwueke, over their involvement in the case, but the Care Quality Commission was clear that no individual health workers should be singled out, as the problems were systematic. 5 Social work staff members have been sacked.

There are no surprises here. After every tragedy, and sadly Children die every week at the hands of their parents in this country, inquiries usually make similar points- communication, errors of judgment, poor training, staff shortages. These are not excuses- they are present realities of any beaurocratic response to complex human dysfunction.

Last week, Peter’s mother, her boyfriend were all sentenced. Entirely predictably, the Sun newspaper started a campaign to increase the sentences awarded. (The Sun had earlier campaigned for the sacking of social workers involved in the case, and claimed responsibility for their dismissal.)

And finally, Graham Badman, chair of Haringey local safeguarding children board (Sharon Shoesmith’s replacement) released details of a serious case review. This is the second such review, the first one concluding that there had been procedural failings and errors of judgment, but none on their own “were likely to have enabled further responses that might have prevented the outcome.”

Here is the Guardian’s take on the new report (from here)

The Badman review is clear that this was too generous a reading: Peter’s death “could and should have been prevented”. He could reasonably have been taken into care after the first serious incident, in December 2006, and on several occasions afterwards had professionals been more diligent.

The original report explains – but does not excuse – the failures to take Peter from his family in the context of the behaviour of his mother: she was frequently co-operative, with an open manner, and keen to please, so agencies built up a trust in her.

They saw Peter’s injuries as resulting from lack of parental supervision coupled with his observed tendency to “throw his body around and headbutt family members and physical objects.”

This perspective framed the way professionals viewed Peter’s subsequent injuries, the original report concluded. Wrong-footed by the mother, and seemingly never quite getting enough solid evidence to warrant a criminal charge or issue care proceedings, they effectively gave her the benefit of the doubt. The overwhelming sense of the first review is of well-meaning professionals struggling to bring a clear focus to an infernally complex, chaotic and constantly shifting situation.

Badman is scathing of this. He argues that social workers in particular were too timid. Professionals “over-identified with the parent”, and were even bullied by her.

While the original report gives no clear picture of the mother, Badman portrays her as an arch-manipulator, subverting the professionals, “a dominating and forceful personality”, eminently capable of intimidation.

In the report, there is a devastating sting in the tail. It remains to be seen whether there will yet have to be a public back lash against this- the usual corrective pendulum swing in the opposite direction…

Badman’s interpretation, fashioned with access to more information, is at times clear-sighted in spotting of unforgiveable errors, at others unforgiving of understandable human failings.

Professionals should be more interventionist: if they suspect abuse, they should act on it, even if they are proved to be mistaken. “Better that than the harm the child will experience.”

The removal of children from home, and reception into care has already increased in real terms by around one third. Each one of these actions is a human tragedy- characterised by damaged and broken people, holding opposing and contradictory views, and professionals acting in a context where information is incomplete, and finances are under great pressure.

So for those of you who will never have to encounter such incredibly difficult situations- know this. There will be more scandals. More children will die. There will be more outcry as children are removed on evidence that later turns out to be wrong.

And in the middle of all this will be a set of people who will be held accountable. They will almost certainly be social workers.

Who else?

A bit of Scottish-German culture…


We had a great night at our friends Juergen and Michaela’s party. Juergen is hitting the big 40. They had a Ceilidh, with  the wonderful local band Canned Haggis, and we danced all night. Emily played some fiddle in the interval too…

Juergen has a love affair going with all things Scottish. Germans seem to be able to wear the Kilt much more easily than the English ever can, and he knows more about whiskey than anyone else I know.

So happy birthday Juergen.

Achtung the noo…

Emily and Will dancing

Emily and Will dancing

Picture preach 7- falling like rain…


Deuteronomy 32

1 Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;
hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

2 Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.

3 I will proclaim the name of the LORD.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!

4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.



house of commons

So, the politics in the UK takes another strange turn.

The papers are full of details of expenses claimed by Members of Parliament- from the maintenance of moats, to pornographic videos.

The Speaker of the house has resigned during a sitting of parliament- for the first time ever.

Change is in the air- both in terms of the party in power, who may yet be forced to call an early election- and also the pressing need for reform of some aspects of our political system. Whether or not there will be real change, it remains to be seen. The British tend to change constitutional things slowly, and pragmatically.

Is this crisis a good thing? A good shake up and clear out of the system is sometimes good- although the moral and ethical tone of the current debate tends to be a little difficult to stomach- coming as it does from the Daily Telegraph. It is not so long ago that the out-going Conservative party fell into a trough of sleaze and allegations of ministers being bribed with envelopes stuffed with money. The Telegraph had a different set of priorities then.

But the current scandal seems to confirm a base view of politics that views all politicians as ‘the same’, feeding from the same honey pot, out for what they can get. If such a view persists, then our system of democracy is under threat.

The problem with this view for many of us, is that for many years, we believed that all politicians were NOT the same. There were ours, and theirs. Ours were politicians of conscience- men (and women) of passion and integrity- committed to an ideal of social justice and socialist principles. Theirs were out to protect their privileges- slaves to big business and multinationals- committed to maintaining inequality.

This simplistic, dualistic view of the world defined my life for years. It was a comfortable, safe place- which allowed easy categorisation according to ideology for just about everything. Things were either politically correct, or they were not. There is a naive simplicity which is still attractive to me as I remember these things-

Food– chosen according to origin. South Africa and Israel (Apartheid and Palestine) were to be avoided, as was anything by Nestle (Because of their promotion of Baby milk to sub Saharan Africa, with devastating effects.) Meat was forsaken because of the cutting of rainforests to grow beefburgers for MacDonalds, and Tuna was bad because Dolphins died in drift nets.

Clothing– was based on cheap jeans and slogan- laden tee shirts, carrying ‘radical’ messages. Accessories came from Oxfam, or the embryonic fair trade movement.

Music- had a message, or it was not worth listening to. And it had to be out message. There were some exceptions- allowed because they were good fun, and did not explicitly support the enemy.

And so on- you get the picture! All of life was seen through a world view that was defined by a particular politico-ideological perspective.

It was not simple for long. Our Heroes had clay feet. We had Kinnock, who blew it, Smith, who died on us, Blair who sold out and got in bed with Bush, and finally Brown who is merely presiding over the death throes of a party who long ago lost any sense of ideology and value base.

The thing is, I was (and am) a Christian. What I found was that it was possible to approach Jesus through the same narrow perspective. I genuinely believed that it was next to impossible to be a Christian and a Conservative. One meant life and justice for the oppressed, the other meant siding with the oppressors, which Jesus never would. For us, Jesus joined the Labour Movement. He was one of the boys. God was a socialist.

So how much harder is it then, to see the death of ideology over the last 20years? The end of politics driven by passion, and instead the easy slick accommodation of Blair- followed by the brutal prudence of Brown. A Labour Movement that found it possible to join a modern day American Crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan. That thought increased expenditure on health and education was the sum of it’s ambition. That presided over a widening gulf between the rich and poor of the nation.

And now a Labour government that came into power in 1997 promised to clean up politics. It promised a ethical foreign policy, and transparent funding processes…. and yet it ended up 12 years later with- this.

So, to the point of this piece.

Ideology can bring life. It can inspire enormous collective endevour. It pushed us towards a dream of living a better, more sustainable, ethical life. But is always falls short.

And when we promote an ideology above the author of everything- then this becomes, idolatry.

brazen serpent

So let us watch the political twistings and turnings with interest. But let us watch as people whose allegiance is not first to an ideology, but to a King and a New Kingdom.

Networking with alt. worship folk…


We heard about this meeting of the Tautoko network and Michaela and I are hoping to go. Thanks for the invite Laura!

This is what it is all about;

It’s been too long but finally a weekend gathering has been planned for the tautoko network in July 2009 at the Coalbrookdale Youth Hostel in Shropshire. We really hope you will join us. It will be a relaxed weekend to chill out, catch up, share and cook some choice food and drink, reflect, worship and pray together, with plenty of space for conversation.

The tautoko network was originally formed out of friends connected with alternative worship, emerging church, or missional communities (funny old thing language eh?!). Why? Well mainly because we love hanging out together. The network was made a bit more intentional/formal recognising that there were plenty of others involved in the same kind of stuff who didn’t necessarily have the history of friendships but could gain a ton from being part of it. These were the words we put together to describe why it exists and they still seem a pretty fair reflection…

  • To share the journey with others who face similar mission challenges.
  • For mutual friendship, encouragement, solidarity, support, gift giving, discernment, resource sharing, ideas and learning
  • To see what emerges as creative people connect.

And the ethos/values we try and shape the friendships around are…

Open set | Spin free | Generous | Vulnerable | Questioning

Sounds really good…

Said Michaela- ‘wouldn’t it be lovely to go to something like this that we were not responsible for?’ I think I know what she means.

Aoradh @ Greenbelt, ’09…


I finally managed to get our booking form into Greenbelt yesterday- with a day to spare! Last minute as always!

This year, Aoradh are going to do some worship in ‘New Forms Cafe’- a space that is used as an alternative worship space for various groups. It looks as though about 7 of us will be going, and setting up an installation based loosely around a theme of ‘time’.

We will also be setting up some kind of poetry graffiti, on boards around the site- based around the ‘Ecclesiastes 3’ theme. Some of this poetry I have used on the blog, and will be part of a new book called ‘Listing’, published by Proost, hopefully out before the festival.

Speaking of Proost, Jonny tells me that they will be setting up a couple of evenings where Proost contributors will be doing their thing. I will probably be contributing to these in some way.

If you are going to Greenbelt, and read this blog, it would be great to say hello!

It is a considerable undertaking to get down to Greenbelt from Scotland. The distance is quite something, and it does not fit the school holidays up here- we have to take the kids out of school. But for me, the journey is made worth it for these reasons-

  1. Our group is small and isolated, and needs connections with the wider movement of God in our time
  2. We also need ideas and inspiration, and to connect with the creativity of others
  3. It is a safe place to continue exploring faith- full of people who adventure outwards in their engagement with the Word and the world
  4. It is a way that our ‘small theologies’ (worked out in small community) connect with ‘big theologies’ (worked out in culture)

hope to see to see you there!

Le Blackpool…


So we are all thinking about holidays right?

I used to live near to Blackpool. Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I did not go there very often. But I do agree that it has it’s charm.

Chips in the rain

Garish lights reflected in the wet tarmac

Dirty sand blown from the beach

Fortune tellers and slot machines

Faded, tacky grandeur, aged quickly in the salt air

The shrieks of folk on the way to nightclubs and the click of too-high-heels

However, despite these somewhat dubious pleasures, Blackpool seems to me to be quintessentially British- and northern British at that.

So when I heard that the Blackpool tourist board are trying to market Blackpool to the French, I thought that this would be worth seeing. I was not disapointed.

Watch out for the hot pot…