Peter's Blog

Olympics Fever

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Olympics football at Hampden

A very quiet blog during July is the usual sign of mayhem in the Johnston household... It has been an extraordinary month with Carolyn away in the United States for a couple of weeks spending time with her family. A longer taster of what it is like to be a single parent fairly opened my eyes, my hat is tipped to single parents everywhere who keep life together, organised, calm and happy. The kids were actually great, but I have been so busy working that we were not able to spend much time doing any family stuff.

On top of that, the house has been a worksite with a new bathroom being fitted - much needed to replace the rather decrepit room that had been the family bathroom for all these years. It looks great, but the work has taken three full weeks with lots of complications in the plumbing (old houses!) to work round. However, it all should be finished today. Yay! The guys have done a fabulous job, kudos to them all.

Sowing Memories, Growing Hopes

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Memories and Hopes

The day has been spent getting everything together for the end of year primary school services. Thanks to Karen Harbison for the idea of using sunflower seeds! I relieved B&Q of all their sunflower seeds, and visited the schools to give out plant labels for the Primary 7 children to add their memories of primary school on one side of the label, and then their hopes for next year at Secondary School (for most of them that will mean Calderside Academy) on the other.

After getting a planter bag for the children to place their labels into, along with a seed, I realised it looked a bit boring and plain without a backdrop of some kind to place behind the table. Great idea!! Fiddly execution... After five hours of cutting out and messing around with PVA glue on a funky foam backing, this is what I ended up with. It's about 1 metre square, so everyone should see it. It never ceases to amaze me how this kind of thing always takes far longer than you think.

Now to cut out all the cards with a message for the P7s and envelope these up with a seed to take home. It will be a fun evening...

[Update: From the first of the services yesterday for David Livingstone Memorial Primary here are some of the tags the P7s planted in the grow bag along with sunflower seeds. Another service for Auchinraith Primary this morning.]

Plant Tags


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Meeting Detritus

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the meeting table in the session room this afternoon after a long day of reflecting on the year past and thinking ahead to the year to come with Jen Robertson (Schools and Churches Youth Development Worker) and the other members of the Management Group for this post. A day, in other words, of strategising. Despite coming to what normally feels like a break time with the summer school holidays nearly upon us, I seem to have been involved in plenty of these kinds of meetings recently.

Two days a couple of weeks ago were spent in the same room with members of the Rights Respecting Steering Group from Calderside Academy thinking very productively about the vision and values of the school and what a new school charter might look like. This involved children from each year group, staff members, and others like the chaplaincy team. These, too, were long exhausting days but I (and the other members of the chaplaincy team) were so impressed with the young people who were representing their year groups. They contributed brilliantly, and came up with some super ideas. 


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A wee treat for any rock music fans out there! Carolyn and I trekked down to Sunderland's Stadium of Light last Thursday to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in the most northerly of the UK gigs the band was performing as part of their Wrecking Ball tour. It was a rather scary thought when Carolyn asked me when I had first been to a Springsteen concert... almost 25 years ago at Wembley Stadium in 1988 was the answer. And the concerts are still as electrifyingly awesome today as they were 'back in the day'. It is amazing that he is 62...

The video above was from the very end of the concert with performances of Dancing in the Dark and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, the latter which contained a very poignant tribute to Clarence Clemons, Springsteen's right hand man since the band began, who died last year. The many famous saxophone solos that Clarence used to perform where handled by his nephew Jake during the concert.

Luke Paul

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Luke Paul book cover

I finished reading Finlay Macdonald's new book "Luke Paul" this evening. Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald (to use the full title!) was Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland until his retirement, a past Moderator of the General Assembly, and before that a parish minister. He has written before and I also have a very helpful book of his on my shelves summarising some of the big debates in the history of the General Assembly, "Confidence in a Changing Church". "Luke Paul", however, is a rather different book in comparison to this earlier work.

This is a piece of historical fiction, if you will. It is the story of a parish minister, Rev Luke Paul, nearing his own retirement, living through the period October 2010 to May 2011, with the backdrop of a Church of Scotland that (like many denominations) is in the process of deciding whether to accept the ministry of gay and lesbian people living in committed relationships with their partners. Dr Macdonald has to be commended for writing a book that tries to do justice to the intricacy of the debates and history of debates, while also giving a flavour of the depth of feeling and real lives that are affected by these debates within the Kirk. He uses storytelling as the means to provide what, he states himself, he hopes will be a positive contribution to people's understanding within the Kirk of this issue. On the whole, in my opinion, I think he succeeds. 

Local Walks

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Walking in Redlees Quarry

First off, a big thank you to Andy Williamson and David Burt for stepping in to lead the worship on Sunday morning! I'm feeling a lot better, if still coughing and spluttering somewhat. Thanks for the prayers, folks!

I confess I have also missed most of the Jubilee celebrations for Her Majesty over the weekend - just not feeling up to watching much TV. We did, however, have our own belated celebrations for Robin's, ahem, 75th, with a festive union flag wrapped cake today!

In the evening, just as the clouds started to sprinkle we got out with Keely for her third walk of the day (truly spoiled today) to Redlees Quarry. I really appreciated getting out and about having been stuck at home for the past few days.

It is one of the delights of venturing back into dog ownership that you do get to explore many more of the local spots than you ever would without a beastie in tow. Two places we had never explored before (shameful, I know) have been the parkland around the old Priory where the football pitches are and the reclaimed Redlees Quarry. The latter we've been to regularly (in part also to get Keely used to the car, which is still troubling for her), but over the last couple of weeks they have really opened up the walks there with a number of new paths taking you around the site. It is great. 

Spill the Beans Issue 4 Now Available

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Spill the Beans Issue 4

This one has been a long time coming, and apologies to all those (around 135 churches for Issue 3) that have been awaiting the next Issue. We had intended it to be available at the beginning of this month but my ill health rather got in the way of any extra-curricular activities, like editing together all the fab creative goodness from the team. However, finally, Issue 4 of Spill the Beans is here! This covers 3 June to 26 August, or Trinity Sunday to Pentecost 13 for the liturgical among us.

We're delving into the story of King David in this issue following 1 and 2 Samuel through the lectionary. It is quite a journey! We haven't skimmed over the tricky bits, but that does mean there are a couple of challenging albeit also helpful and enlightening weeks along the way. It is a worthwhile journey, however, and there is something each week for all ages.

Refreshing Refreshments

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Fruit Juice Cocktails

We always have refreshments in the form of tea, coffee and squash after the service, but this morning we had a wee treat with Jim Brown serving fruit juice cocktails with a very fine collection and the ability to mix your own exceedingly delicious refreshment. On such a hot day, this was indeed a refreshing refreshment.

It would be lovely to have this each week in the hot weather, but this was a special as the juices came from a Boys Brigade fund raiser for the World Mission Council and their work in Zambia.

Perhaps icecream floats next week if the weather stays good? Anyone?

Scoughall Success

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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.