Category Archives: News

Those whose first language is numbers

I enjoy this because I enjoy statistics, and because (to paraphrase Churchill) they are the least effective method of understaning what is going on, apart from all the others.  People trot out “lies, damned lies and statistics” and “you can get statistics to prove anything you want”.  Such maxims are a license of personal prejudice and Daily Mail-esque urban myth which always seem to favour the conservative and the elitist.

Statistics are about trying to find the right indicators, manipulating the numbers intelligently and understanding the robustness of our process.

Being wounded to be healed

 

 

So, inspired by the prematurely deceased Steve (running is about “guts”) I had gone out hard, and in the last 500m had overtaken two folk who had been ahead of me for most of the race.  One is in the British Army, the other (according to the results) is called “unknown” (was he Jacob’s angel in Strathclyde Park? –Genesis 32).

 

I was hanging on at this point, I was in complete pain, but something inside me had to keep going, was even more frightened of stopping, of being caught.

 

I used to love running.  Now it was a thing where the satisfaction came afterwards.  The thing itself was pain and pressure, and the Strathclyde was something I had come to dread, glad when it was over.

 

This has been a crazy week.  I have worked longer hours than any week in years, I have been getting up at 5 in the morning.  There have been all manner of different situations and problems and meetings to think about.  Curiously the thing that has received the worst of time, and has been the hardest, has been my preaching, the thing I am called to the most.  My wife also has not seen too much of me.

 

And then I felt a sharp twang in my leg, my hamstring had gone (incidentally an injury I first received at our Sunday School picnic).  I limped over the line.  The woman on the finish line asked me if I was hurt, and informed me that I still had a good time (Good time?  How can anything over 20 minutes be classified as a good time?  – Curiously there had been a woman in the care next to me this morning saying exactly that, she wasn’t a 20 minute runner, and would be happy to go round in 40 minutes).

 

So perhaps as Jacob’s hip had been dislocated in a contest with “unknown”, a similar fate had befallen my hamstring.  There is something more important in my life than breaking the 19minutes 30second barrier in the 5k.

 

I am reading a great book on the Emotionally Healthy Church, by Frank Scazzero.  It’s about the crisis that was precipitated in his life when his wife informed him that she was leaving his Church.

 

Tomorrow I am thinking about the leader Nicodemus, the leader who had reached the front of the pack, and who had heard about Jesus, who admired Jesus, who met Jesus, and yet was still outside of the kingdom of God.

Justice at last for Dag Hammarskjold

This article in today’s Guardian reminds me that we perhaps need to add a fourth figure to the pantheon of modern martyrs.  Hammarskjold was mystic who acted, a spiritually nourished diplomat whose integrity and skill glorified the God he worshipped.  Like Bonhoeffer and King, it seems that he too died through violence.  New evidence suggests that his plane was indeed shot down over Zambia. Fifty years on, the truth of his last minutes seems to be emerging from the African jungle in which he died.  He was man of rank, prepared to lose it and to make himself a sacrifice.

A man more lauded, yet possibly more compromised was Kennedy.  Before he too died in violent circumstanes, he said of Hammarskjold, “‘I realise now that in comparison to him,
I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century.”

Hammarskjold is a reminder that the truly contemplative life is cannot be forever cloistered.  It is light, and light must always head towards darkness, to shine in it and not be overcome.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia on his spiritual life:

In 1953, soon after his appointment as United Nations secretary general, Hammarskjöld was interviewed on radio by Edward R. Murrow. In this talk he declared: “But the explanation of how man should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics [Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroek] for whom ‘self-surrender’ had been the way to self-realization, and who in ‘singleness of mind’ and ‘inwardness’ had found strength to say yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbours made them face, and to say yes also to every fate life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty as they understood it.”[31]

His only book, Vägmärken (Markings), was published in 1963. A collection of his diary reflections, the book starts in 1925, when he was 20 years old, and ends at his death in 1961[32] This diary was found in his New York house, after his death, along with an undated letter addressed to then Swedish Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Leif Belfrage. In this letter, Dag writes, “These entries provide the only true ‘profile’ that can be drawn…If you find them worth publishing, you have my permission to do so”. The foreword is written by W.H. Auden, a friend of Dag’s.[33] Markings was described by a theologian, the late Henry P. Van Dusen, as “the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal faith written … in the heat of professional life and amidst the most exacting responsibilities for world peace and order.”[34] Hammarskjöld writes, for example, “We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it—according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed—according to the measure of his purity of heart.”[35] Markings is characterised by Hammarskjöld’s intermingling of prose and haiku poetry in a manner exemplified by the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho in his Narrow Roads to the Deep North.[36] In his foreword to Markings, the English poet W. H. Auden quotes Hammarskjöld as stating “In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.”[37]

Spill the Beans

Spill the beansThis is a new worship resource with Roddy Hamilton, Peter Johnson (I think) and others behind it.

Good to see something from a grassroots, Scottish context.

The PDF is here.

Murdochgate – some quotes

 

“He’s a big bad b****** and the only way you can deal with him is to make sure he thinks you can be a big bad b****** too… You can do deals with him, without ever saying a deal is done. But the only thing he cares about is his business and the only language he respects is strength. – Australian Premier Paul Keating

Journalistic apathy towards the marginalised:

Most national journalists are embedded, immersed in the society, beliefs and culture of the people they are meant to hold to account. They are fascinated by power struggles among the elite but have little interest in the conflict between the elite and those they dominate. They celebrate those with agency and ignore those without. – George Monbiot, 11 July

The Arab Spring

It was a lightning revolt with a whiff of the Arab Spring about it, in that the anger was directed at the power of an elderly dynast and his closest associates. There is a feeling of liberation at the end of this highly charged week and we can say that our society seems better off: our political system is freer and, I would suggest, a little bit cleaner; relations between the media, politicians and the public have changed for the good. – Henry Porter, 10th July

The tabloids have emptied political discourse of radical and nuanced thinking:

Blair turned what he saw as electoral necessity into burning rhetoric. He assumed from early on that he would achieve little if he did not acquiesce to the tastes of the majority view as represented to him by pollsters and selected newspaper magnates and editors. – 13th July, John Kampfner.

On the atmosphere at Westminster

a little like an end to the dictatorship when everyone suddenly discovers they were against the dictator – Vince Cable

I know what is the meaning of cross

 

 

When I am leading this campaign against the Sharia Laws, for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed, and marginalised, persecuted Christian and other minority, these Taleban threaten me.

 

But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us.  I know what is the meaning of cross.  And I am following of the cross.  And I am ready to die for a cause, I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.  So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.  I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather to compromise on these threats.

The Church of Scotland already has AV

In politics we don’t have teams (if we did it democracy would degenerate into pure tribalism) but values.  No party embodies all of my values.  Under the current “first past the post” system I have to do two kinds of calculation – which parties represent my values, and which parties have a chance of winning.  I have to play those two issues against each other.  With AV I only have to think about the first – which parties most represent me, and rank them according to their ability to do that.

Opponents of AV portray it as an complicated innovation which is somehow un-British, not the way we do things in the burghs and the shires (although curiously it is close to the way things are done when electing the leader of the Conservative party).  Actually AV has an older pedigree than we might imagine.  It’s effectively the way votes are cast in the General Assembly and Presbyteries of the Church of Scotland.  We have motions and counter-motions, gradually eliminating the least favourites and transferring votes until the most favoured option emerges.  We’re less anxious about winners and losers, more determined to discern the mind of the community, and through that, ambitious though this may sound, to discern the mind of God.

A couple more things out there

I was talking to an employee of Price Waterhouse Coopers yesterday who was saying the company no longer sticks graphics and fancy colours into its reports, on account of a major customer survey which said all the clients wanted were black and white bullet points.

In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions on youth ministers, Christian music, Christian publishing and Christian media has produced an entire burgeoning culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it.

Stewardship is not the same as fundraising

Looking at Leviticus of late, you see this at work. The point of sacrifice is sacrifice.  The sacrifice has no use after it has been offered, other than to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Some of the portions are to be kept for the Priests, but this seems to be a way of supporting the priests who have the necessary butchery skills for the task.  You don’t have sacrifices to support priests, you have priests to enable sacrifice.

We don’t give to support our workers – we have workers to enable our giving – that would be the logic at work in Leviticus.  I am not sure how far I want to take that, is that the same as the Paul’s offering to the Jerusalem Church – that delicate act of stewardship which permeates much of his writing?

My stewardship friend went on to espouse the view that the reason Church offerings had been relatively resilient to the recession was because giving came from within.  If we relied on fundraising we would be in real trouble.

Drew Draws Advent

 

 

Gloria

After studying at the Angel Room ceiling at Overtoun House I started to look at the Art History of angels and why they are portrayed as women or babies with wings.

What I learned is that everything mentioned in the Bible about Angels (the Greek or Hebrew word simply means messenger) doesn’t lead you to an easy portrait of what they look like except they were frightening to behold.

The paintings, cartoons and tree ornament depiction of angels comes more from Greek and Roman mythology reinforced by great Renaissance artists like Raphael, Michaelangelo and Titain.  Take Cupid the Roman god of Love (Eros to the Greeks) often portrayed as a naked winged child.  If you took away his arrows and Valentine hearts he would look positively angelic.  Or Victory the Roman goddess of victory (Nike to the Greeks) a winged female figure appearing from above to crown victorious generals and athletes with a wreath.

When Christianity became the official religion of Rome the artists basically looked to the old ways for inspiration on how to paint these new celestial beings.

Do Angels have wings?  Some do like Cerubim (Ezekiel 10) and Seraphim (Isaiah 6) but in early Christian art they were generally ‘wingless’.  Are Angels men or women?  The Bible doesn’t give them a gender but they often appear as men.  Do they play harps?  Maybe it can be inferred from Revelation 5:8.

If all this seems a little in depth don’t worry I pulled alot of it from a document I wrote several years ago which joined two interests of mine Art History and Christianity.

Todays cartoon is just a play on the long ‘Gloooooria’ we sing in carols.  Its also a bit of an experiment in Photoshop layers.