Peter's Blog

Scoughall Success

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Cosy Cafe Weekend Group

Belatedly, a few pictures from last weekend's brilliant weekend away for members of Cosy Café Sundays. I became swallowed up in trying to finish editing Issue 4 of Spill the Beans as soon as I got back (and took a trip to visit the doctor!), but that is now finished, so I can catch up on these things!

We had a fabulous time. I was rather worried when we left Hillhouse Parish Church on Friday evening in our convoy of two minibuses and the luggage car when the rain started pouring down as we drove along the M8, and that evening it was pretty driech in Scoughall, just a few miles from North Berwick. But the weather just got better and better over the weekend so much so that instead of treking into Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon, we stayed at the campsite and played some wild games of nukemball! 

Nature or Grace, revisited

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I can't help continuing to ponder the amazing Terrence Malick film "The Tree of Life" that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. The above is an excellent reflection from Father Barron on the film, touching on our experiences of suffering, the story of Job, and God's role in it all.

I particularly appreciated how he acknowledges that we should not see nature or grace as simply bad and good. Rather they are both necessary, but the balance between them is the dance of creativity that God exhibits through the creation, and indeed the dance we recognise in our own lives as we try to understand, comprehend and make sense of our lives and our purpose in life.

Rice, Trade and Justice

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Visiting the David Livingstone Centre

Today was an enjoyable day spent in the company of three gentlemen I had not met before (though life is never quite that distant...), Howard Msukwa and Henry Kalomba, both from Malawi, and their host in Scotland, John Riches (with whom it turns out I do have a connection as he plays in a music group with my mum in Glasgow!).

Howard and Henry were over in Scotland sponsored by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum for two weeks to visit different groups across the nation to bring some insight into the local situation in Malawi and encourage us to think more about fair trade issues.

Howard is a rice farmer in North Malawi, and also the current chairman of a large association of farmers in that region. Henry works for NASFAM, the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi, which has oversight for and works with the regional associations to help the small farm owners to think beyond seeing their farming as subsistence farming, and more as a business that can benefit their families and community. 

New arrival...

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A new arrival in the Johnston household... Keely, a Scottish Collie (because we wanted a breed that didn't shed... ha ha ha) who we picked up yesterday from Ayrshire. A 16 week old pup, and a little overwhelmed at the moment, so here's hoping she settles in quickly. The name is a gaelic girls name meaning "graceful and beautiful".

We've been talking about getting a dog for a few months now, and decided after our rather stressful time with our last rescue dog (for whom we still have a soft spot despite the hassle she caused, and God bless our good friends Ian and Anne who took her in) that we would get a pup this time.

We're not quite sure if we are mad or not... though that wee face...

Living Stones

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Stones at the foot of the cross

This evening in our Good Friday Service we gathered at the foot of the cross (still adorned with the suggestions from the young people at Calderside Academy) and heard the stories of six witnesses to the events at the cross: Simon of Cyrene, John, Mary Magdalene, Roman Centurion, Mary (Jesus' mother) and Joanna. My thanks to Linda Lees and Janice Brewster for giving voice to the female stories.

We placed a stone before the cross in memory of their witness to us. We also remembered that we are called to be living stones witnessing to the continuing forgiveness, love and grace that the cross bears witness to in our own lives.

The service closed with us all saying together:

We will not go from here believing this is
all there is.
We will believe through the night,
and we will believe into the dawn.

We will not go from here believing this is
all there is.
We will believe beyond torture,
and we will believe into freedom.

We will not go from here believing this is
all there is.
We will believe beyond tombs,
and we will believe into eternity.

We will not go from here believing this is
all there is.
We will believe against the darkness,
and we will believe into the light.

We will not go from here believing this is
all there is.
We will believe beyond gravestones,
and we will believe that stones roll.

We will not go from here believing this is
all there is.
We will believe beyond the cross,
and we will believe through to

(Words from Spill the Beans)

The Kiss

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Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

We ended our time of worship this evening for Maundy Thursday, following a remembrance of the Last Supper, with these words:

And so we are left here;
the table is empty.

Let us go with Jesus
to the garden
to hide among the olive trees
and wait.

O how waiting is hard tonight.
It is like that moment before the storm
when even the universe goes silent,
and the stars shrivel
and everything knows
something is about to happen.
And so we wait
because it is all we can do.

Jesus’ betrayer,
stealing towards him.
The universe holds it’s breath,
the air stops moving,
the Saviour stands, head bowed
and soon it is begun.
The future unfolds its long shadows
and the clouds roll,
and God falls
to the sound
of a kiss.

(Words from Spill the Beans, painting by Arkhip Kuindzhi, 1901)

Nature or Grace?

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Tree of Life Film Poster

Last night I finally gave up on awaiting the DVD delivery of the film "The Tree of Life" from LoveFilm - which has been on my rental list for months - and ended up purchasing a copy from the Playstation Store to watch via the PS3. I'd been wanting to watch the film since it won the Palme d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, as its themes of faith, our place in the universe, the nature of God, love and grace, and some mind-bending imagery from science's current understanding of the origins both of the universe and life itself seemed extraordinary. That the film also starred Brad Pitt and Sean Penn made it even more intriguing.

Well, it certainly is quite a movie. I thought it was fabulous, but I can totally understand why some people would get utterly frustrated with it. Some have thought it to be pretentious rubbish, others have said that it provides a poignant glimpse into eternal questions, others declare it a masterpiece. I tend towards the latter camps, but the film no doubt demands some sacrifice from its audience in order to make the most of it. This is not your typical Hollywood blockbuster! 

On the Easter Trail

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Strathaven Easter Trail

Braving the very cold turn in the weather, we took advantage of the afternoon to visit the first day of the Strathaven churches Easter Trail 2012 this afternoon. This uses various sites around the town as a kind of mini-Oberammergau allowing you to explore the events of Holy Week. This is their third time of putting on the trail, and the first time we have managed to visit it.

The legacy of John Ogilvie

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St John Ogilvie by Peter Howson (cropped)

On Thursday evening Carolyn, Sophia, Katherine and I travelled into Glasgow to St Michael's Roman Catholic Church in the shadow of Celtic Park for the ninth of eleven performances of the play "The Martyrdom of Saint John Ogilvie" written and directed by Stephen Callaghan, who also played the main part, St John Ogilvie. My hat is doffed to Stephen, it was a fantastic performance, which I know he had to take on at short notice when the actor who was due to play the part could not do so.

The play is just part of Lentfest with many different arts events taking place across Glasgow during the season of Lent organised by A.G.A.P. (the Archdiocese of Glasgow Arts Project) where my sister works with Stephen as administrator for the project.

I'm not sure if I can say I really enjoyed the play, as it casts light on a time of our history that is bedevilled with fear of the other and abusive power games that turned once well-meaning, goodly and Godly people into tyrants. If it doesn't make you uncomfortable as you watch an account of events that took place just near us, then I don't know what would. But I was moved and impressed by the dedicated performances put in by all the players.  

Flip-sides of the Cross

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Cross at Calderside Academy

All of last week the chaplaincy team were leading assemblies in Calderside Academy using the cross as the symbol that directed our thoughts. The cross was swiped from the wall in the church - while at some point this will no doubt find a home high up on the sanctuary wall, it sure is handy to have a large cross to be able to use for this kind of activity!

We were thinking about the cross at the pre-eminent moment in human history where what tries to diminish us is reversed by that which can fulfil human life. 

Culture, Faith and Mission

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Pastor John Chilimtsidya

A long day on Friday meant that when I got the chance at 10 p.m. having put the two younger kids to bed, I headed for the pillow myself. Stupidly, I checked facebook after plugging my phone in to charge on the bedside cabinet and saw the beginnings of a long discussion in the facebook OneKirk group from folks who had just watched the second episode in the series "Reverse Missionaries" on BBC2. The programme was recorded, but I had intended to watch it another time. The comments - one of which cheekily came to the conclusion that all the woes in Blantyre are due to me (thank you, Bryan!) - raised my curiosity level, and I ended up heading back downstairs to watch the programme.

I confess to a lot of mixed emotions having watched it. This seems to be echoed in the various comments from others either on facebook or in person. There was a wider story that it was good to tell, and raises a lot of questions and challenges for us and for the church as a whole, and then there were the very local issues that drastically oversimplified the story of church life in Blantyre for the sake of making the documentary easier to follow.

To have and to hold...

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Wedding Cake

It has been a very long day. I'm still awaiting a moment to slow down for a breather after returning from Baltimore. Nae luck so far. However, it was a fun and extremely varied day.

Worship planning for Sunday first thing, a trip to Costco as soon as they opened to pick up a wedding cake for the afternoon, a disagreement with the staff at Costco about the pricing of Cadbury's Hot Chocolate for Cosy Café (I eventually got the refund!), and then a visit with a family about a baptism before lunch.

In the afternoon, the mock wedding with the P3 class from David Livingstone Memorial Primary School was good fun (and thanks to the folks at Livingstone Memorial Church for hosting and making the afternoon special for the children and parents who attended). I was asked at the reception after the service, "So do you think that will make them more likely to get married in the future?" A good question in a culture where a formal commitment between couples is becoming ever less common.

The history of 'keep calm'

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Back in November 2010 we distributed cards to everyone with the timeless slogan devised during World War 2 "Keep Calm and Carry On" - and folks still talk about that wee card.

Since then the phrase has become even more common and variations, often flippant, of the phrase are all around us. Here, to remind us, is a video that tells the history of this poster. I had mistakenly said back in 2010 that it had been used extensively. It turns out that was not quite true. Millions of posters were printed, but they were held in reserve and never used during the war itself.

Into the west...

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Rev Fiona Ogg presentation

A very full day today with a 309 mile round trip to Kilchoan for Fiona Ogg's induction and ordination to the linked parishes of Acharacle and Ardnamurchan. We had a great time and it was a great privilege to be present on this very special occassion for Fiona as she takes up her charge and begins her ministry with the people of the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Fiona always said she wanted to minister in a rural context... I can safely say, having driven 100 miles on single track and unbelievably windy roads today, that she most definitely got her wish. But, wow, it was spectacular. We saw plenty of wildlife on our way, including a majestic stag standing proud on a hillock next to the road, and we also had some extraordinary tour guide commentary including the priceless... "ooh, look at those wee allotments down there, they really are small... oh, wait, that's a cemetery!"

And on to Baltimore...

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Next flight on BA App

As if the drive to Kilchoan and back is not far enough this weekend... the Johnstons are all flying out to Baltimore on Monday morning for a week to spend with family. Some of us were joking that it will probably take about the same time to fly from London to Baltimore as it will to drive 150 miles to Kilchoan. He may not be far wrong!

I've been playing with the British Airways app on my phone having booked with them and, surprisingly, finding it was the cheapest option, which is fab. You get your itinerary, your electronic boarding pass and up to the minute flight information all there. So very clever.

The decision to go is one we have been thinking about for some time, but in the end we decided very quickly just to go. However... I am realising that it is not just so easy to drop everything and go, and realising that before a planned holiday one does a lot more preparation for the absence than I realised. Alas not everything will wait until I get back, so I'll need to take a few things with me, but not too much.

It will be lovely to see family and friends on the East Coast, many of whom we haven't seen for four years. A brief trip, but it will be good.

Preparations for Kilchoan

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No Ordinary Man books

Tomorrow morning, early, I'll be setting off with a couple of the kids and with Janette, Linda and Margaret representing St Andrew's at the induction and ordination of Fiona Ogg to the linked parishes of Acharacle and Ardnamurchan in the church at Kilchoan. The service takes place at 1:30 p.m., but it will be a long, slow drive there and back. An early night required for me tonight!

A big thank you to everyone who contributed towards the gift for Fiona from us all, a generous £165! Having spoken to Fiona, I purchased two super books that I am sure she will find very useful in her ministry. The remainder of our gift being presented as a cheque with cards both from the congregation and the Kirk Session. We will, of course, pass on our best wishes to Fiona in the name of everyone at St Andrew's.

I will take my camera, so photos will follow at some point! I haven't checked the forecast yet, but if tomorrow is anything like today, it should be a very pleasant drive into the Highlands.

Lessons from Nim

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Nim signing with a tutor

Last night Carolyn and I had a rare opportunity to sit down and watch something together. I had a disk of the 2011 documentary film Project Nim courtesy of LoveFilm that it had crossed my mind might be a fascinating film for Cosy Café Sundays. Whether or not we use it at the Cosy Café, it is a heart-rending story about a chimp named Nim Chimpsky (a dig at Noam Chomsky) who was raised as a human in a human family in the 1970s, and taught sign language. This was part of a scientific behavioural study on whether chimpanzees could learn language in the same way we do. Noam Chomsky had said that this was not likely, language was the preserve of humanity.

What the BBC film shows, however, is not so much the sad story of Nim's life, but rather the frailty and selfishness of humanity in dealing with Nim.

More Time-Lapse Beauty

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Having just written about time-lapse cinematography in my last post, here is another example of the modern use of this technique with stunning results. As with a previous example I posted, watch it in HD, full screen, sound up nice and loud!

The creator, Randy Halverson, says about his film Temporal Distortion:

What you see is real, but you can't see it this way with the naked eye. It is the result of thousands of 20-30 second exposures, edited together to produce the timelapse. This allows you to see the Milky Way, Aurora and other Phenonmena, in a way you wouldn't normally see them.
In the opening "Dakotalapse" title shot, you see bands of red and green moving across the sky. After asking several Astronomers, they are possible noctilucent clouds, airglow or faint Aurora. I never got a definite answer to what it is.  You can also see the red and green bands in other shots. 

At :53  and
2:17 seconds into the video you see a Meteor with a Persistent Train. Which is ionizing gases, which lasted over a half hour in the cameras frame.

The Aurora were shot in central South Dakota in September 2011 and near Madison, Wisconsin on October 25, 2011.
Watch for two Deer at
Most of the video was shot near the White River in central South Dakota during September and October 2011, there are other shots from Arches National Park in Utah, and Canyon of the Ancients area of Colorado during June 2011.


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I love this word! Koyaanisqatsi. Having been listening to the minimalist composer Philip Glass's soundtrack to the film of the same name, I cannot get the repetitive theme out of my mind. It is a word from the Native American Hopi people that is defined at the end of Godfrey Reggio's film as "crazy life", "life in turmoil", "life disintegrating", and "a state of life that calls for another way of living".

I came to the film through the connection to Philip Glass, whose music I enjoy listening to. I must have added the film to our LoveFilm list many months ago, I had completely forgotten about it, but the disk arrived on Monday, just after our Thinking Day service in which we had been thinking about environmental sustainability and the Guides motto this year to "save the planet". This film could not be a better accompanying piece.

Life and Death

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Save Our World Posters

It has been an eclectic day. I'm still battling a wretched wee bug that is sapping energy faster than the coffee/diet coke/chocolate can replenish, but I dragged myself out of bed to finish preparations for this morning's Thinking Day Service with the Rainbows, Brownies and Girl Guides. It was a combined service trying to tie together the theme from WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) which was based around the seventh Millennium Development Goal on environmental sustainability which they focused into "save our planet", and also keeping on with our lectionary pattern and the Spill the Beans material which was covering the Transfiguration of Jesus.

It was possible to make the connection between the revealing light of Jesus illuminating new possibilities for the disciples (and, in turn, for us too) within our world, and the need to explore and grapple with new possibilities in how we think and act to protect our planet. The challenge of seeking to serve our neighbours near and far, encouraging people in the poorest parts of the world, by making changes to our own lifestyle needs the life-changing motivation of Jesus' light. [There's more...]