Perfected Intentions :: ALTER VIDEO MAGAZINE

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Saw this today- it made me smile. And think again about the people that influence me- and make me want to be better.

There are lots of other interesting video clips on the Alter Video Site too…

Are we more than just the sum of our biochemistry?

I have been thinking a little about a radio programme I listened to in the car yesterday- a discussion about the nature of our humanity on Start the Week on Radio 4.

The thrust of the argument came from Raymond Tallis– scientist, poet, philosopher, doctor and novelist (I wonder if he has time for origami too?) He is the author of this book

Tallis’s argument goes something like this-

“To seek the fabric of contemporary humanity inside the brain is as mistaken as to try to detect the sound of a gust passing through a billion-leaved wood by applying a stethoscope to isolated seeds.” So argues the philosopher and clinical neuroscientist Raymond Tallis. He condemns the growing use of brain science to try to explain every aspect of human life. In his new book, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, Tallis attacks the idea that we can understand humanity through ‘biologism’ – the belief that humans are essentially animals and can be explained in biological terms. Although our existence was brought about by evolution, Tallis asserts that humans are profoundly different from animals. Moreover, he claims that biologism and ‘neuromania’ are dangerous for society, fuelling a belief that there is no hope of moral progress for humans.

Tallis is an atheist, who has no interest in the supernatural- but does appear to be driven by an deep interest in the nature of humanity- and of an appreciation of art. He also seems to like a bit of controversy.

In thinking about the discussion the other day (but not through reading his book) I was thinking about this thing called ‘humanity’- who we are, and what we are capable of.

Are we special?

Because we can reason and emote and deceive- does this make us different from the other animals?

And is the greatest evidence for the superior nature of humanity to be found in our libraries or our great galleries, or in our nuclear warheads?

Did God make us a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour, or is this just arrogance and self delusion?

And because we are able to even ask questions like this- does this make it so?

I believe in the possibility of humanity to rise- to become agents of truth mediated by grace. Our biochemistry seems to both confirm this and to conspire against it. We were made this way.

So although I want to agree with Doctor Tallis, I wonder whether it really matters- even if the ultimate human reality is biological, painted by electro-chemical dots and dashes, then is this all that we might ever hope for?

Or do we believe in the incarnation of spirit in body?

Browned off…

I keep hearing about how the country is in the middle of a drought- and that temperatures are soaring into the 30’s (degrees C that is.)

Well- not up here. We have had only a handful (4 or 5) of dry days since the beginning of May. Hopefully the bad weather has past now- we had a lovely day today- slight winds and sunshine, with a temp of warm 17 degrees.

As a sign of just how extreme it has been up here this year, here is a picture taken of some trees on the way into Lochgilphead-

No- autumn has not come early (I don’t think!) There are trees like this all over Argyll- particularly close to the sea. They fell victim to the violent storms that ripped in back at the beginning of May- when the tender new leaves simply could not cope with the strength and cold temperatures- resulting in ‘wind burn’.

We are told that the trees themselves will be fine. But we kind of know how they feel!

Apparently there is no such thing as bad weather- just inappropriate clothing (unless you are a tree.)

The end of an old asylum…

Argyll and Bute hospital is at the end of its useful life. Soon it will be ‘reprovisioned’.

Hanging in the old reception area is a painting of the hospital from what I imagine is about 100 years ago. It shows a rear view of the hospital, at a time when it was a permanent home for hundreds of patients. If they could only tell their stories. I assume the painting was done by a patient at the hospital- it has a naive feel about it that is very affecting.

I took my camera today and took some shots between meetings. I wanted to record something of a visual monument to one of the last of a breed of failed social/medical experiments known as the ‘asylum’. By any measure, it was a desperately failed experiment. In the name of humanitarian treatment of the mentally ill, we removed people from society, and warehoused them in institutions. Even when these were well run (and the stories of abuse that was handed out by some staff are appalling) then the end result was that people were lost. They stopped being brothers, sisters, children, bakers, lovers- and became- patients.

Here are some of the shots (click to enlarge.)

The religious power invested in objects

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(Sorry I think this video may only play in some regions, and for a limited period of time.)

I watched this film last night- a documentary tracing the journey through one and half millennia of religious objects, saints remains and art made out of body parts.

My personal favourite was a little silver case containing the eyeball of a Catholic priest hung drawn and quartered some time around the reformation in England. Body parts were parboiled and displayed around town- at which point some brave soul popped out an eye ball to save as a keepsake.

What I was less aware of was the fact that for hundreds of years, in order to celebrate mass, the relics of saints were required- contained in mini- altars and often invested with huge power and wealth. It was this trade in body parts and objects- from the thorn crown of Jesus and bits of the ‘true cross’. to fragments of bone and hair purported to be from saints old and new that was one of the targets of the Reformation.

Certainly, growing up in an Evangelical reformed tradition we found all such things ludicrous- idolatrous and heretical even. They were one of the more visible things that seperated us still from any close relationship with the Catholic tradition.

Of course- we had our own objects of sanctification- I remember in one church I belonged to there was a carved communion table, which was moved about three meters- leading to bloody revolt by some members of the congregation.

The power of the symbol, and the anchor that connection to people who have gone before us in faith- these things seem to me to be important still.

As I watched the programme I was amazed at the obvious power that the objects had over the presenter- and also on me. It was difficult to be cynical in the face of such obvious veneration.

Having said all that- like most of our religion- it clearly had the capacity to go badly wrong. All that mad trading, and competition to get the best objects. And the possibility that the objects become more important than the object of the objects.

There is a shorter clip of the opening of a mini altar and examination of some remains (including hair supposed to have belonged to St John) here. In fact- I will add this video as a different post, as it is quite something.

I do not believe that I have any right to doubt the devotion of people who made objects like these, or who worshiped around them. Whilst I might not seek to collect any bits of saints to give meaning to my faith- I do believe that my experience of God is enhanced by symbols- by spaces and by objects within them.

Boxes of photographs…

Michaela and I spent some time clearing out a room adjoining Williams room today- which was, and will become again, an en suite shower room. At present it is a junk room- boxes, off cuts of carpet, toys.

In the process of doing so we opened up three boxes that were still more or less unopened from when we moved into the house- 8 years ago. I am sure there is some kind of rule of thumb about throwing out anything that has lain unopened for so long.

But these boxes contained photographs- you remember those- rectangles of shiny paper with images on. What we used before we all had laptops and i phones and flash drives. Which, when you think about it, is not very long ago at all- we got our first digital camera (actually, Emily was the first in our family to have one) around 6-7 years ago. These days my camera is never very far away.

Nothing brings to you the passing of time like a box of old photographs of the life you have lived- the people you knew and the babies now grown.

I need to scan some- but for the moment, the picture above will have to do- my lovely Michaela and little Will taken about 9-10 years ago. During a different life- when we were English.

There were also photographs of this old house– before all the renovations we have undertaken. Why on earth did we buy it?

Photographs make me sad

They make me proud

They make me wistful

And they make me grateful

Greenbelt beckons…

Aoradh spent tonight planning for some events we have up and coming- including our worship slot at Greenbelt Festival.

Greenbelt suddenly seems close, and we are still really at the ‘playing around with ideas’ stage. However, this is usually my favourite part of any project- the bit where you get to create things out of next to nothing- and how one idea sparks another, then another. The theme this year is ‘Dreams of home’- we are playing with some themes around the Feast of Tabernacles.

I am also doing some poetry with Proost– recorded and available on headsets around the site. I have not written that yet either! To be honest, I am a little worried about this- my poems tend to be so introspective and private- and these poems have to sit alongside those of two really great performance poets- European poetry slam champion Harry Baker and the equally brilliant Padraig O Tuama.

Oh dear- I can’t do that. Or that. I suppose that as ever, I need to stop worrying about what others do, and just trust that what I am/have is enough. I can do that. I think. Perhaps I will write a poem about it.

Anyway- there is lots of good stuff at GB this year- some music I really like- A Show of Hands, Kate Rusby,  as well as headline speakers Rob Bell and Brian McLaren.

If you are going this year, and you read this blog- drop me a line, perhaps we can share a beer/coffee.

Otherwise, Aoradh’s worship slot is on Friday night this year- 7pm I think…




When I was a child I saw as a child

Walking scary streets

Avoiding the pavement cracks

Hoping for a God-who-saves

To save me


I watched normality, envious

Each window framed  a mysterious montage

Full of the glorious ordinariness of the other

Performing their small evening rituals

Needing no secrets


And me, an alien observer

Hidden in the static noise

At the edge of the radar screen

Tentacles twitching


It is the gift of the outsider

To see inwards

To linger in doorways

And enter reluctantly

Welcome but wary

Never quite learning how to belong