The God who died…


Ancient graffiti, stave church, Norway

What is this thing we call God? What better question for Good Friday?

My half-grasped concepts of the divine have ebbed and flowed, sometimes receding so far as to be out of sight, whilst at other times exploding into almost painful transcendence.  I have to own the fact that all of these concepts I have held are wrong– if not in entirety then at least in that they only contain a glimmer of gold amongst all the rusty iron. Some of this iron has stained me, even though I threw it as far as I could.

The biggest stain I bear was an inevitable consequence of being immersed in the Evangelical worldview throughout my childhood and early life. Within this world view, God is seen as the harsh unyielding judge, ruling the universe against the heavy yardstick of sin. This God sent his son as a softer version of himself to speak softer words of love even though in the end he had to die in order to make his point because of our sinfulness and unworthyness. We can escape this God’s wrath only on a technicality because this God will only accept perfection. Anything less will be burned for eternity in pain and anguish.

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I have fallen out with this concept of God. I hope this God does not exist. I believe that this God is not worth believing in.

But if so, what God does exist? Perhaps, like me, you have been stained by the the God as described above, so much so that you no longer have any concept of God. If so, I would understand. I am not ready to let go of the divine just yet however.

The glimpses I have that are still meaningful to me go something like this;

God is that from which all things flow.

God is the life in everything.

God is that that binds everything together, despite all that tries to force it apart.

God is not bound by law, but God is in essence love.

Perhaps the whole universe is actually contained in the mind of God…

What might this mean for we humans? I do not think that we have any right to capture the truth of God and lock it in any one religion. Rather I think that The glory of God is a human being fully alive. (St. Irenaeus of Lyon). To be fully alive means being connected, because that is what we were made for. All sins are ultimately sins of separation from this connection. Once broken, everything starts to come apart. Sadly, exclusive me-first religion is guilty of breaking this connection as much as anything else, which was probably why Jesus had so little time for it.


Talking of Jesus this good Friday, the follow on question from the one above is this; why did God have to die? What did the death of Jesus achieve? It is said that on the cross, the Wrath of God was satisfied, as if the stretched-out slaughter of his son was the only thing that could turn his mind to mercy; as if the mind of God could never be remade once fixed. Perhaps this only ever made sense in the mind of religious men.

Perhaps God still needs to die in order to kill narrow judgemental religion, just as he did back then. Perhaps then we might come to see that the way of love requires first that we notice the sins of separation and seek a different kind of repentance – one that honours death by seeking life in all its fullness.

Or life in all its connectedness.


Our exhibition…


After a few months of stress (particularly on M’s part) today we had the great privilege of setting up our own solo exhibition at the very lovely TIG gallery.

Check out details here.

We have a preview from 10-4 on Saturday for any who are in the area.

Here are a few teasers;

The sin of separation…

rainbow, barbed wire

We are curious creatures; we are made for community and define ourselves by separation. Some more than others.

Perhaps the nature of our innate dichotomy is more obvious in village life. The division between those with whom we commune and those we studiously avoid is so much more immediate.

Perhaps it is more obvious in me. When I was young, despite my natural introversion, I threw myself into social activities because I considered them a moral obligation; a way of being a better human being than I knew myself to be. I even chose social work as a profession/vocation. Life was about building bridges between me and other people, particularly those in some kind of need… I am older now though and increasingly reclusive. Finding energy to reach out is harder. I am in danger of retreating behind my garden hedges and being just another one of those people living a small life centred around me and mine.

It is not enough. There is so much more.

rainbow through trees, benmore gardens

I was thinking again of those stories from the beginning of the Bible from the much-abused and theologically weaponised book of Genesis. Forget the creation myth for a moment and the meaning it may or may not contain. think instead of the strange stories that immediately follow on in the first chapters. The man and the woman naked before the eyes of everything in Eden. How they came to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it forced them first to cover up, then pushed them outwards, East of Eden, where we remain, wondering if it might ever be possible to go back to the garden…

Perhaps you already see where I am coming from? Perhaps it is all about the sin of separation. Separation from the wild. Separation from the one-ness of all things because we thought we were above all that.

The stories in Genesis go on to describe how the separation grew wider because we also separated from one another; Cain killed Abel and rather than walking on the land, we started to own it, to build our cities on it. To raise up our empires on it. The measure of man was no longer found in connection but rather revealed in accumulation.

But back to me. Back to my own sin of separation. It is not enough to make my own personal Eden behind my own high hedges. Rather I need to consider again the call of the Spirit towards constant creative repentance. Perhaps this means burning some hedges (or at least chipping them to avoid smoke-fuelled conflict.) Certainly it must mean closing the gap a little when I find or make the opportunity.

Rainbow, kyles of bute

Sometimes this can even be fun. Part of my gap-closing has involved becoming a director of the local community development company and we hit on an idea around the sharing of tea. Apparently, these wet acidic conditions on the west coast are good for growing the stuff. Who knew? What better analogy for community than the communal growing of tea bushes? We are starting out on a journey towards getting people to use a bit of their personal Edens to grow things for the common cup. If it works, perhaps we can share one.


Music to give life 3…

Continuing a series exploring the more meaningful parts of my playlist. Looking for the music of hope. The criteria I set for myself was something like this;

It has to be beautiful
It has to open up something in my soul
It has to have brought me at least close to tears. (It does not take much to be fair.)


I first heard Over the Rhine at Greenbelt Festival about 6-7 years ago. They played an unfashionable slot on the main stage mid-afternoon, to an almost empty field. I was passing, on my way to a seminar on some obscure aspect of theology or other which seemed important at the time. I missed the seminar because the music nailed me to the spot. The broken edge of her voice mixed with his harmonies. The shape of their songs. Slide guitar punctuated by delicate finger picking and simple piano. If you have a weakness for Americana, it does not get much better than this.

Cut forward a few more years. My Daughter Emily (who lives and breathes music) and I are heading north on the M6. She has recently passed her test and is driving, which give sher previously jealously guarded music choice privileges. That’s the rule right? Will and Michaela are in the back, sleepy and only semi-engaged in the social side of family travel. Then this album comes on via Emily’s phone which is plugged in to the stereo. I had not heard it before.

Perhaps it was the treasure in the moment. We were all tired and unwinding after a long weekend full of good things- a wedding; good friends; us all together again. The feeling of expansion into another phase of life when one’s daughter is old enough to drive you home. Or perhaps it was just the music.

But that is the power of music right? It can capture a moment for us and seal it with sound and emotion into something precious.

Before long we were all weeping. That is no big deal for me, but even Will, in the awkward mid-teen phase, was not immune to the power of a song like this one;

Or perhaps you might prefer this song instead, from a different album;

On giving offence…


I hate conflict, so much so that I would do almost anything to avoid it, a strategy which has the downside of potentially making things worse in the long run. But conflict, when it flares up, makes me feel ill. I churn around it, stewing in my own sense of hurt and injustice. It is sour and toxic, turning me inwards. It also tends to leave me incoherent, so that holding my own in a high octane discussion is that much harder.

That is not to say that you CAN avoid conflict. It is easier if you are in a work role, which is one-step removed from where it really matters, but conflict will come, sooner or later, unless you cut yourself off from people entirely and that brings a different set of problems…

I wish I was better at it, because sometime confrontation seems the right thing to do. The next time I hear some smug middle class person look at news of other people’s poverty and tell me that ‘Charity begins at home’, I don’t want to simper and inwardly seethe. Rather I want to look them full in the face and say “NO. You are mistaking charity for bloody nepotism.” When I hear someone tell me that objecting to racism and sexism is ‘political correctness gone mad’ I want to ask them why they only hold that belief in relation to things that have affect others…

Or perhaps I am getting a bit Falling Down in my old age? Certainly conflict matters less these days, but it still matters, probably too much.

A neighbour has stopped talking to us. I am not sure why- some perceived slight on our part. Smoke from a fire. A hedge cut too severely, or not enough. Attempts to reach out, to speak in the street, have been rebuffed. Perhaps the knowledge of a different place on the political spectrum. It bothers me, more than it should.

Michaela told me something recently though which seems relevant. She has completed a business mentoring course for creative businesses, and one of the things she was told that it is necessary for as many people to NOT like what you make as those who love it.

Think about that.

The logic is this- in order for your art to be distinctive and connect with people in ways that matter, it needs to repel. It needs to give offence. Even if the offence is as simple as ‘Ugh. I would never allow that in MY house.” Obviously at the same time, it needs to be an inspiration to others. Blandness and middle-of-the-road marketability does not make for a good artistic strategy it seems.

Perhaps it is not a good personality strategy for those trying to live a life that means something either.

I am reminded of an old poem inspired by that story of Jesus smashing up a temple. Because anger is not the opposite of love.

And conflict is not the opposite of compassion.



He stood in the door of the temple

And saw red


The beautiful ones

Stressed up like sharks

Creases sharp enough to cut

Hunkered down over their spreadsheet scriptures

Their holy bottom line


These beautiful creatures

Who can never have enough

Who are blind, but for the glint of golden things

Their altars slickened with the substitutionary sacrifice

Of the poor


Tear a rib from me Father

Make them anew

Turn over their chemical tables

Snap the twisted strings of their DNA


My blood boils




Music to give life, 2…

Part of a series exploring the deeper and more meaningful parts of my playlists.

The next album I wanted to mention is this one;

Yvonne Lyon Metanoia

Yvonne lives but a strong stone-skim from us, over the other side of the Clyde in Greenock, and although we have the pleasure of counting her as a friend, let that not fool you. I can be very judgemental about music. It needs to make me weep remember?

Yvonne has been making lovely music for years. She writes songs that find their way inside you. You might appreciate their craft, but ultimately songs like this have the capacity to become close friends. The sort that carry you through the difficult times.

In my view, this album is her best yet. It starts with some stomping folk, takes turns through some electronica, but remains all about the songs. Strange then that these are not new songs. Yvonne has released them before on other albums, but this time, she took the great risk of handing over control to others to re-mix and re-shape. The end result is a varied jewel of an album that does not detract from her own creativity but adds to it, stretches it even. It is no surprise (but a great pleasure) to see it getting rave reviews.

Yvonne has been honest about how this album emerged out of a difficult time in her life and this is carried in the music, which often seems to contain an honest fragility. It is perhaps this that I respond to most, because glimpses of beauty and brokenness in the other allows me to see the same in myself.

Ultimately the album is about hope, so here is a track from the album called She survived the winter.


Music to give life, 1…

At the beginning of this year I made a bit of a promise that I would try to be a bit less miserable on this blog and focus a bit more on grace and hope. I am not sure whether I followed though on this, certainly the output has been a little sparse. I would hate you to think that this was because grace and hope is in short supply in these parts – far from it. So, this post marks the beginning of a new occasional series.

For Christmas, our kids engineered it so that we now have a Spotify account. Now, please do not take this to be a commercial, after all there are other platforms. I am also conscious that music streaming services have brought sweeping changes into the music industry that have not all been good, particularly for artists, some of whom are struggling to make ends meet. But… I can honestly say that access to such a vast reservoir of music has brought blessing into my life beyond what I ever expected. I keep discovering something else so beautiful that it makes me cry, so I thought I would share some of it with you here.

The criteria to make it into this series is something like this;

  1. It has to be beautiful
  2. It has to open up something in my soul
  3. It has to have brought me at least close to tears. (It does not take much to be fair.)

Today I start with this album;


Like most of us, I first came across Marketa Irglova as an actor in the lovely film ‘Once’  I have heard her singing since as part of Swell Season, and was also familiar with her first album ‘Anar’, which is lovely, full of sumptious harmonies.

Then I started to listen to Muna, (which is Icelandic for ‘Memory’ in case you did not know.)

This song in particular broke me.


God, I’ve been sent here blind to learn to see,
Remembering you were always there with me.
But do you know just how hard that’s been?
Could all of this have really been foreseen?
I’d like to say a prayer, how does it go?
I’m tired. Tell me, God, does it show?
What could have called for such a handicap?
I was sent out here without a map.
All this time I’ve had to guess the way,
To keep moving when I wished to stay.
I’ve been wrong as much as I’ve been right.
You tell me: ‘Walk by faith and not by sight, and
Keep your heavy heart afloat.
You are a timber carved by knife, but
Someday you may serve as a boat.’

What I lose here on earth…
…Is lost in heaven.
If I ask you for help…
…it will be given.
But you’ve waited this long…
…you weren’t ready.
My devotion was strong…
…it wasn’t steady.
I have one more question…
…you have the answer too.
But what does that mean?
You’re I, and I am you.
Why speak in riddles?
Then let me show the way.
That’s all I’ve wanted.
That’s all you’ve had to say.

Well come on then, God, show me,
Which way you would like me to go, and
I won’t resume to question,
How I was ever supposed to know.
There have been signs along the way, but
They’ve been so very obscure.
At times I thought I knew their meaning, but
How could I’ve ever been sure?

God, I was sent here deaf to learn to hear,
To have faith in you and never fear.
Life is an ocean, you its every wave,
Your arms would cradle me, and keep me safe.
You’re right, all this, and more I need to learn,
All this unease just makes my stomach churn.
It was I not you who set this trap, but
You did leave me here without a map.
All this time I’ve had to guess the way,
To keep moving when I wished to stay.
I’ve been right as much as I’ve been wrong, so
All I hear from you is: ‘You are strong enough,
For all you’ll ever have to face,
The only map you need is Love,
To guide you through this illusion of a maze.’

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven,
Give us today our daily bread,
Forgive us, Father, all our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us, and
Lead us not into temptation, but
Deliver us from evil, for thy is the kingdom, and
The power, and the glory,
Now and forever more,

New book out soon!

Double waterfall

Just a wee heads-up that I will have a new book of poetry out soon. It will be printed in the same format as Listing, in what Proost describe as a ‘pocket liturgy’ size, which in practice means a lovely little book that can be carried in your pocket, which, dare I suggest, might work particularly well for this one…

…because it concerns itself with wild water. And there is nothing more poetic than watching water in wild places.

This book gathers together brand new poems along with some of my older writing into chapters entitled River, Ocean, Irrigate, Souls swimming and Flow together, and was partly inspired by our up and coming exhibition @ Tighnabruaich Gallery which begins at the end of March.

These excerpts from the introduction probably tells this story as well as anything might;


The imagery of moving water – rivers, streams, rolling waves – has long been employed by humans as a means of seeking to understand things beyond ourselves. In some parts of the world water is a much rarer commodity than it is where I live, on the western fringe of Europe, amongst the remains of the temperate rain forests. From ancient times we hear of sacred rivers, or shrines sited at springs and wells. In fact, many of these sites seem to have been adopted by the new religion of the Celts, to become holy wells or holy springs. Certainly, the ancient Hebrew texts inherited by the Celts were also full of the same imagery; streams of living water, water springing from rocks, God moving across the face of the waters, water turned to wine, the baptism of new believers and so on. Sometimes the water seems to be used to describe God, or an aspect of God, at other times it is used to describe life itself.

But the title of this collection – ‘Where the streams come from’ – suggests something else too; the idea of an origin; a beginning; an uprising; a source. This might be a matter of history – after all, we all live downstream of all that has ever been and upstream from all that is yet to be. It is also a question of science; the explosive expansion of the universe, the accretion of material into stars, orbited by planets, an accidental alchemy that leads to life and the unfolding evolution that flows forward towards us. For many it is a theological question- one that some promote above all others. God is our creator and the universe is his clockwork toy, slowly winding down to a time of his choosing.

For poets it is ultimately a spiritual question, one concerned with trying to see beyond the surface into the meanings that make everything come alive. Learning how to exist in the flow of all things, not merely to observe and record, or to define and measure, nor to decide between what is sacred and what profane. Not even to save. The flow I refer to is that which we sense in wild places. The flicker that we feel in the pits of our stomachs when an animal roars at a distance. The tears at sunset. The pang at the sight of geese flying away for winter. That sense of staring into moving water and wondering… if. Spirituality like this can arguably only ever be partially expressed and only then using the mediums of poetry and art.

More on release date etc later, but in the meantime, some more moving water;

moving water