Living without electricity…

We are increasingly utterly dependent on what comes to us through cables. I know this to be a fact, as I have spent most of today coping with the consequences of what happens when the cables stop delivering.

Since the big storm on Tuesday, parts of Argyll have had no electricity. Other parts have had an intermittent supply. It has  taken a whole army of blokes spending three days and nights in the hills and forests tracing fallen lines, disentangling them from trees, reinstating the masts that were blown down and the transformers that burnt out.

The consequences of this are obvious- or at least is seems so at first. The lights will go off. And the TV- oh, and the computer of course.

But then you start to remember other things- the telephone system, even if the supply that keeps the line is live, probably will not work as your telephone will require power, as we expect it to do lots of things other than just being a telephone. You will get cold as the heating system will be controlled and pumped by electricity.

Slowly you start to realise that everything is controlled by computers. And computers are great, but get very sulky if you remove their supply of amps. They are very greedy for amps. So (as we found out) trying to set up an emergency kitchen, as the gas supply was still working, was futile as all the appliances need electricity too- even the gas hob, which shuts itself down without the extractor hood working.

I also heard that the phone lines on Bute stopped working as the emergency generator was kept behind a door controlled by- electricity. Oops.

Then, the longer the electricity is off, the more serious things start to get. You can not buy food, as no one pays with money any more- we all pay by computer. Also, all the chilled food in the supermarket goes off immediately.

Finally, there is the fact that even the care that we provide to many people is dependent on technology. Increasingly we care for our frail elderly by computer. It is cheaper. We use door alarms, pressure mats, intercom systems, and all sorts of other sensors and switches.

The effect of this on our communities has been interesting- in some it brought out the best. Neighbours who went the extra mile, supermarkets who opened their doors, people sharing warm firesides and warm soup. But then there were those who would ring the council and demand to know why we had not visited them or someone else to make things OK in some way- as if we had endless resources, and perfect knowledge.

The lessons for us as individuals are sobering- the weather seems to be changing here, and we can probably expect more of the same. Simplify your life from some of the gadgets. Keep some candles and cans in the cupboards. Make a note who which of your neighbours might need a bit of extra help, and knock on the door to have a conversation (you remember those- from before Facebook and MSN.)

And in cases of extremis, decide which one is going to get eaten first.

God the invisible. God the uncontainable…

Had a lovely time at our housegroup this evening.

I had more or less come to the conclusion that it was time to stop housegroup- that it was time to do something new. But instead of stopping all together, people decided that they would like to continue to meet monthly. So tonight Michaela spent a little more time preparing some simple mediations, and I sat in the corner and played guitar. It was lovely.

You could say that it was a ripple made by the Spirit.

And something about our discussions reminded me of this-

The blocks might be seen to represent our theology- or our value system. The means by which we make sense of the vastness of the universe and our tiny place within it.

But even though the thoughts we have are woven into some kind of system of apparent cohesion and even certainty, there is always something else- something indefinable and difficult to lay hold of.

Something that at times we yearn for, without knowing what it is.

Something that is beautiful and whole- something hopeful.

Something dangerous.

Something that some of us would call- God.

So as we stare at our construction of solid blocks of knowledge, there dancing in the middle of it all- playful and full of Joy- is this other thing. The blocks might describe some of it, but it is not contained by the blocks. The spaces between might seem to be it’s place of dwelling- but these too are transient and transparent.

Rather this thing that we seek- this God- is not contained. He is in and through and without.

The question is how we might respond to this capricious and undefinable God? How do we follow?

I know my own answers to this question- and they are to found in community with my friends. We follow together. We build our (temporary) blocks of understanding with small stones.

We build humbly because our answers are only partial.

But still we build- because within this communal dwelling there is not just us- but something other. Something indescribably beautiful.


My old friend Graham sent me some stuff about the theme of the teaching in our old church Calvary Christian Fellowship back in Preston. Graham is about to do a season looking again at making and forming small missional communities.

It is going to be an interesting journey for them, as they are starting out not as a disparate band who ‘find’ each other then start with all the forming and storming. Rather they are starting out as ‘Church’ and seeking to become ‘church’.

I wish them every blessing.

Graham shared this model which was their staring point-

This is not Graham’s picture though- this is from the middle of our table from the Aoradh meeting tonight. Because we had already been speaking about a similar dynamic.

We do this thing at our planning meetings that I like- we cover the table with paper, and the doodles and coffee spills and scribble become the record of our gathering.

Ok someone might need to pull out some action points and e-mail it round later, but we often do not take other notes.

Tonight I shared my sense of frustration that we were doing a lot of the inward stuff- the gathering and eating together and sharing (all of which is great) and also some of the upward stuff- in terms of worshipping together. But we were not doing so much ‘outward’ stuff- the uncomfortable business of ‘mission’. This is not really fair of course because we have been doing all sorts of things this year, but I am always longing for the next creative adventure.

Mission no longer means ‘evangelism’ for us. But I think it still means risk, vulnerability, and the deliberate connection with the other- in various kind of ways- seeking to serve, to make peace, to share art, to display love and to seek to be agents of the Kingdom of God.

Anyway, my friends pointed out gently that we all have different levels of need for this kind of adventure, and that the very fact of living our lives in the midst of all this messy humanity is always going to be ‘out’ there. And I said yes- BUT…

And bless them, we spent the rest of the night dreaming of missions we might adventure on. Art in the hillside, quiet gardens, meditation benches, trips away together, retreats etc…

Let the Spirit call us out.

But let us also be blessed in the togetherness.

As we worship.



The power of we, revisited…

Saw a piece of research today into research into mortality rates-
Facilitating patient use of naturally occurring social relations and community-based interventions may be more successful than providing social support through hired personnel.
The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity.)
The overall effect remained consistent across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, follow up period, and cause of death, suggesting that the association between social relationships and mortality may be general.

This is rather startling… the strength of our social network will have more positive effect on our health than all the other lifestyle things we are hit with repeatedly- the weight loss industry, stopping smoking, vegetable eating etc.

(Perhaps we should all get together to share a good smoke and to eat large amounts of chocolate!)

It was part of a presentation done at this conference that I almost went to-

So living in loving community is good for you- in every physical sense imaginable.

It is the way we humans were made.

And it is the best that we can become.

The spirituality of log stacking…


So here is my little ten part sermon based on the stacking of logs.

You can make your own analagous links.

  1. Stacking logs can not be rushed
  2. There are no machines that can stack them for you- bend your back and get stuck in
  3. Beginning carefully is very important- you will be building on these foundations
  4. Neatness is not important, but a well stocked log pile will probably be orderly
  5. Fresh air needs to circulate in, over and through the pile or the logs won’t dry, and will go stale and mouldy
  6. The rigidity and strength of a log pile comes from the closeness- the proximity- of its individual logs
  7. The big ego-bulging logs are the hardest to stack- they tend to topple and teeter and can easily bring the whole thing crashing down
  8. The smaller logs tend to be the glue that hold together the whole structure
  9. The higher you build the pile, the more unstable it will become
  10. The pile is not an end in itself- no matter how decorous. It exists to store and dry fuel that can then burn bright in service of the other

Brown tea…

Brown tea

There is a goodness that rises like

Sap in spring trees

In you and even

In me

Rising like salt tears

As something

Is wrenched and torn

By a glimpse of the pain

Behind your smile

It is there in the small things

The turning of tide of the day from

Broken ebb

To tip toe flow

And the alchemy

Of dark brown tea

Mixed in steaming water


I hate conflict.

In my early years, I avoided it at all costs.

Too many memories of things I would rather forget from childhood. Too little (or too much) confidence in my own rightness. Too many people who saw me as a soft target for their own ego-boosting arrows. Too easily the loss of all power of speech when under pressure from stronger folk.

And then there is the wonderful Jesus stuff. The turning of the other cheek, despite the humiliation that this might involve. The call to seek peace, rather than to celebrate petty victories.

But as I have become older, conflict has been harder to avoid. In my work it is guaranteed – I have to make decisions that might directly contradict the expressed wishes of people, and then justify them- even in court. I manage staff, and sometimes need to tackle difficult issues with them. Sometimes people complain- either because I have got it wrong, or because it was never possible to ‘get it right’- because of unreasonable behaviour on the part of others.

But in all these things, I have a professional distance to hide behind. Mostly the real me is safe behind role and title. That is not to say it is not difficult, but I have found ways to deal with it- sometimes even very well.

But the personal stuff- this is harder.

Living in a small town, conflicts with others tend to be hard to escape. Once a relationship is broken, or bad words have been spoken- you tend to relive the situations in the supermarket queue. And there is so much of this here – sometimes it seems as if the whole place is stratified and splintered by years of conflict- enemies made and allegiances enlisted in the coming cold war.

And even though I try so hard to avoid adding to the toxic subsoil – there are areas of pollution that now are mine.

Then there is the conflict that occurs in small groups- the sort that emerges almost like a badge of true community. The inevitable consequence of being close enough to one another to rub away at the veneer we all like to display to the outside world.

It is possible to avoid conflict of this kind in only one way – by avoiding community. By keeping all relationships at arms length – or further. I know many people who live like this. Either because (like me) life has damaged them, and the scars are too sensitive for harsh daylight, or perhaps because life has become stuffed full of other smaller achievements and tasks.

The sort of conflict that is mostly unacknowledged and undisclosed but at the same time nurtured and fed, until it erupts into our gathering like an arc from an opened artery.

What I have learned- or I should say what I am learning– is that this kind of conflict can be holy.

It can be surgical. Like the breaking of bent bones in order to allow them to be set a little straighter.

Like all such procedures- the pain can lie you out all flat and immobile. But should you do what I always want to do- to drag myself off into a dark corner to pick over the scabs- then the chances are that infections will set in. And the bones will twist and curl again.

Broken bones, once set, are stronger.

Or at least, I hope so.

Of course, there remain some healing embrocations that are required. Those wonderful medicinal disciplines that grow on us like fruit propagated by the Spirit-








Self control…

If these things are not tangible, visible and visceral- then we will all need crutches.

And you will all have a limp- like mine.