Argyll Rhapsody…

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We are just back from a schools music/fashion/photography event called Argyll Rhapsody. This is an event organised by CAST (Creative arts in schools team), and was led/inspired by a fantastic musician called Donald Shaw, one of the directors of Celtic Connections, and a founding member of the band Capercaillie. The concept is that some talent is gathered from schools across Argyll, and spend three days preparing and producing something wonderful.

Here is ForArgyll’s take on the thing.

Emily was one of 15 fiddle players picked to join in with an orchestra of traditional instruments, playing along with some professional musicians first in Oban, then tonight in Helensburgh. You can just about see her in the photo below in the second row…

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To be honest, I do not usually look forward to these events- apart from my own daughters involvement of course! However, this one simply blew me away. The music was great- powerful, emotive and well produced.

The second half of the event involved a fashion show, with clothes designed and made by pupils.

I was so proud of my girl…

Here is some of the fashion stuff-

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Conservapedia and the Religious Right…

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Now I do not want to be offensive to Americans, but for most Christians this side of the Atlantic, the whole mixture of politics and religion over there has long been baffling.

We do not understand how for huge parts of middle America, faith,culture, patriotism and culture have become so inseparable. This is so far removed from the role played by faith in the UK that we might be describing a different planet.

What we do hear about over here are the extremes- and they are usually right wing extremes. Televangelists, and those who use a Bible to beat down anything Black/homosexual/feminist/communist/Arab and perhaps above all, this word Liberal.

For us, you see, the word Liberal is mostly a good word- meaning generous, open and forgiving. If applied to politics, it means a rather irrelevant middle-of-the-road political party that is neither one thing nor the other.

There was an interesting article in the Guardian the other day suggesting that the Christian left wing is on the rise in America. Power to them I say, but it remains to be seen whether the left wingers will produce anything as gloriously mad as their Christian brethren on the right.

I spent some time a few years ago amongst some really lovely folk in Maryland who were Southern Baptists. I had been invited over to lead some worship and do some workshops and went in some trepidation, fearing that we had little in common. However I was made ludicrously welcome, and came to have a lot of respect for Conservative Christianity, despite my totally different perspective and convictions.

What I was most shocked by was how things that I thought of as universally bad and against the Kingdom of God- for example rampant free market economics- could be viewed seen as right and proper, and the only option for a Christian democracy.

I came across Conservapedia today- which aims to be a Conservative religious alternative to Wikipedia. It is well worth checking out for those of us who live this side of the Atlantic and find it difficult to understand the political dimension of American religion, and its influence on the world view of half of the most powerful nation in the world.

Despite the fact that ‘The Free World’ has a black Liberal President, I think we need to be aware of this engine for thought in the US- not necessarily to challenge it and attack, but certainly to understand it better.

For example, I notice that they are touting something called the Conservative Bible Poject which is an attempt to produce a translation of the Bible that avoids ‘liberal bias’ (presumably by ensuring Conservative bias.) They have 10 rule that they are applying to the task-

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these)
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[4] Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction[5] by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[6] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”
Check it out- it’s an education…

A few more pictures of autumn…

We had a lovely day today- I took a day off work and Michaela and I went a walk in the sunshine around Benmore Gardens before meeting Simon and Helen for lunch in the coffee shop.

Autumn was kind today- we did not even need coats- which is something of a contrast with the stormy weekend just past.

So, a few pics then…

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Hold: this space- new site…

Congratulations to Cheryl and friends down under on their lovely new site– looks great!

Loads of alt worship stuff, and lovely writing…

This is on their front page-

Take the clay of our lives and shape it to love
Take the clay of the church and shape it to grace
Take the clay of the world and shape it to peace
Take the clay of today and shape it to hope

And then breathe your spirit into all
again

For ever and ever
Amen

Bible Sunday…

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Today is ‘Bible Sunday‘- a celebration co-ordinated by the Bible Society, with the title ‘Living in the certainty of God’s Word’.

We are pointed in the direction of that wonderful passage in Isaiah 55– which begins ‘Come all who are thirsty…

I very much agree that the Bible is something to celebrate, so I have been reading some of the information about Bible Sunday. However, I find myself in a familiar uncomfortable place. I have posted before about some of these issues- here and here for example.

Some of it might relate to the language used in this celebration- the assumptions and presumptions inherent. The very title- ‘Living in the certainty of God’s word’- what this means for many is a closing down of debate, a final understanding of Truth– the Bible says it, I believe it, end of story. We are encouraged to approach the Bible as we would a mathematical formula- to engage with the different elements, order them correctly and so arrive at the only logical reasonable outcome.

But I have become increasingly aware that in doing this, we diminish the words. Indeed, we are in danger of recreating God in our own image.

Another image I have used before is this one

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The Bible is full of truth, wisdom, poetry, history, prophecy and mystery. We humans are logical orderly creatures, who are made to look for patterns. However, we look through at things through a perspective formed by presumptions- it is much easier that way, and it is very hard (if not impossible) to approach any issue afresh without the influence of time and place and heritage. Most of the time this stands us in very good stead. It allows us to be what we are. It allows us to build logical portable and replicatable blocks of truth. It allows us to find commonality and build Church.

But then there are those elusive dots.

We can try to ignore them, but they keep popping up- like those passages in the Bible that just do not fit very well… Or others who have understood a passage in a different way, and God seems to be blessing them. Or the realisation that what we have regarded as fixed and absolute, is suddenly- shifting…

We can regard them as irrelevant and but then they still irritate. Or we can outlaw them, suggest that they are heretical distractions- but then we find that they are increasingly difficult to ignore.

But my humble experience of the Bible suggests that they will always be there. Because the Word of God can not be contained in a book. Neither can God be reduced to a formula. God will simply not be contained.

Does this diminish the Bible for Christians? Perhaps for some, it does. For these folk, the theological blocks hewn from the huge quarry of Scripture are so rigid, that to suggest a different perspective is to bring the whole edifice crashing down. In this, we are in danger of worshiping an idol of our own construction.

But for many others, the Bible is a cherished gift- one that shines light, but also contains many shadows cast by our lack of understanding, and the assumptions made by previous generations.

So I am going to celebrate Bible Sunday by reading the passage from Isaiah 55, and reminding myself that this wonderful poetry points us not at the words, but at the word giver.

Isaiah 55

1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed.”

Persian poetry 2- Attar

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On my continuing mission to find out a little more about Islamic culture, I am have been reading the Persian poet known as Attar.

To imagine the world of Attar, we have to make a journey back around 800 years, to a far corner of what is now Iran, and to the ancient City of Nishapur, standing astride the silk road that connected the Mediterranean tradesman with the mystery and spices of the far East. In the year 1000CE, it was among the 10 largest cities on earth. After the husband of Genghis Khan‘s daughter was killed at Nishapur in 1221, she ordered the death of all in the city (~1.7 million), and the skulls of men, women, and children were piled in up in high pyramids as a warning to others, and a visible sign of the grief of a despot.

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On of the people who was thought to have died in this massacre was Attar. At the time, he was said to be 101 years old.

The little we know of his life has been recorded as having been a chemist, a physician, a perfume maker and a Sufi– those who sought to live by a science whose objective is the ‘reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God’.

And as well as his ministry through herbal preparations and the study of essences that bring life, he was a prolific poet and mystic.

Time for some poetry…

Mysicism

The sun can only be seen by the light
of the sun. The more a man or woman knows,
The greater the bewilderment, the closer
to the sun, the more dazzled, until a point
is reached where one no longer is.

A mystic knows without knowledge, without
intuition or information, without contemplation
or description or revelation. Mystics
are not themselves. They do not exist
in selves. They move as they are moved,
talk as words come, see with sight
that enters their eyes. I met a woman
once and asked her where love had led her.
“Fool, there’s no destination to arrive at.
Loved one and lover and love are infinite.”

The Newborn

Muhammed spoke to his friends
about a newborn baby, “This child
may cry out in its helplessness,
but it doesn’t want to go back
to the darkness of the womb

And so it is with your soul
when it finally leaves the nest
and flies out into the sky
over the wide plain of a new life.
Your soul would not trade that freedom
for the warmth of where it was.

Let loving lead your soul.
Make it a place to retire to,
A kind of monastery cave, a retreat
for the deepest core of your being

Then build a road
from there to God

Let every action be in harmony with your soul
and its soul-place, but don’t parade
those doings down the street
on the end of a stick!

Keep quiet and secret with soul-work.
Don’t worry so much about your body.
God sewed that robe. Leave it as it is.

Be more deeply courageous.
Change your soul.”

Blessed insurance…

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A friend told me this evening that her home insurance was discounted as a result of being ‘a church goer’.

Cue much speculation as to why this would make you less of an insurance risk.

Are church goers less likely to smoke, and so set fire to their houses? Less likely to have wild drinking parties that lead to scratches in the French polishing (remember the old advert for yellow pages? ” All quiet…”)

Or do the risk assessors have some kind of stereotypical view of Christians as solid middle class citizens who drive sensible cars stored in solid garages and whose sense of right and wrong would result in far less fraudulent claims?

But then again- have they missed something?

What about the possibility of the Rapture? All those holes in the ceiling as we rise with a trump and fly…

And I wonder if they have read the gospels? Because I am not at all sure that Jesus would have been a good insurance risk. All that associating with neer-do-wells and criminals for a start. And then there is the partying, and the crowds who break holes in the roof to let down the lame for healing.

Jesus did not go in much for the protection of his private property. He told his disciples that they did not need two shirts on their backs.

And I am forced to wonder if we people of faith should be more proud of an insurance assessment that views us as high risk.

Because our homes are open places for others in need- who might well steal and break things that we own.

Because our lifestyles are characterised by mobility as we follow after the winds of the Spirit.

Because we are not tied down to suburban safety and solidity, but rather prepared to accept the risks of the open road.

Because we are motivated by justice and peace, and that is not always popular.