Peter's Blog

That gadget you always wanted...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

If, like me, you have always hankered after some way to automatically turn the pages of a newspaper when reading it over breakfast, then here is the simple and effective answer. Brilliant. And I believe no hamsters were harmed in the making of this...

Kudos to Joseph Herscher, and for having too much time on your hands.

Cooperation and Coercion

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Cooperation or Coercion

Over the last few days a number of different strands of thought have been coming together in my wee noggin. It is strange how disparate things can all illuminate the same truths. The truths being about how we work together, how God works with us, how communities interact, even how nations see each other, and how politics work. So, small stuff really.

The different strands that have come together have been: listening to Carolyn talking about a technique of teaching called "Cooperative Learning" that she is very supportive of from her psychology background; finishing reading a book by an ex-FBI agent about interrogation methods for terrorism suspects; thinking about how churches can work together better; and pondering particularly American politics and culture in the light of the start of the process leading towards the next US Presidential elections.

Watchnight 2011

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The video created by our younger folks for the Watchnight service on Christmas Eve. The theme of how Jesus brings transformation and new life even into the depths of HMP Blantyre Young Offenders Institute...

After the video, and following the singing of "Tonight", all the young offenders, wearing their nativity outfits came bundling into the church with their prison officers, and the warden promptly broke down in a tearful thanks for how moving their performance was. Quickly followed by a return to their prison outfits, and then each of the Uz! Group was given a candle and with these lit they processed around the church back to their cells to the accompaniment of Casting Crown's "God Is With Us". Very moving.

Well done to everyone involved!

The sound of a fairy?

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There is something quite beautiful, haunting and "I want to try that" about this rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Sugar Plum Fairy" on what, I believe, is a 'glass harp'. Relax and enjoy.


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This morning was the final schools event for 2011 with the Auchinraith Primary service in the church. I used the above video, which the chaplaincy team also used the previous week with our Christmas Assemblies at Calderside Academy. What a fantastic video it is... and the wee boy featured is local, attending Townhill Primary in Hamilton. A small world it is.

The blog has been pretty quiet over the past weeks: I told myself when I started the blog that the first thing that stops when stress levels ramp up must be the blog. No point creating a rod for your own back! But the strange thing is that I do miss the opportunities to sit and reflect on what has been happening, it can be surprisingly therapeutic to put down some thoughts.

Uz! Watchnight Preparations

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HMP Blantyre

Not many of you will have heard of HM Prison Service's latest site... it opened its doors only on Monday evening as the creation of the Uz! youth group's collective imagination. A long night of filming later and a few hours of editing to follow and the video created by the young folks is ready for Christmas Eve's celebrations of light coming into the darkness, of hopefulness in place of hopelessness.

Light bearers

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Christmas Cafe Service

A busy and joyful morning today with our Christmas Café Service with plenty of food, fellowship and fun. Including two great musical contributions from some of the younger folks who sang their own version of Rudolf! Then the Praise Group led us with the song "Come on and Follow that Star" which sounded fantastic - so good that we did it again in the 11 am service.

Prepare Ye The Way

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Preparers of the Light

In a burst of creativity, two new songs written for this week - both inspired by the reading from Mark 1 telling of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness with imagery taken from Isaiah 40. One by Karen Harbison and Jonathan Fleming over in Trinity: "We Light One Thousand Advent Lights", and a homer from Blantyre: "Prepare ye the way".

Prepare ye the way

Prepare ye the way,
prepare ye the way,
make straight the path
for our God!

1. Through the valleys of the dark shadows,
    through the pain of loss and fear,
    on the path that we all follow
    may we know that love is near.
        Prepare ye...

2. Can we see in those around us,
    can we see with our own eyes,
    that God's glory shine upon us,
    we reveal it in our lives?
        Prepare ye...

Words and music: Peter Johnston ©2011 Sleepless Nights Publications

An Advent Adventure

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Performers at Advent Adventure

It was great to see the North Church in Hamilton full this evening for an Advent concert featuring the Lanarkshire Guitar and Mandolin Orchestra (aka Da Capo Alba), the youth orchestra (aka MANGO) and singers both from Hamilton Grammar and from the North Church itself.

I have heard so much about Da Capo Alba over the years but until tonight I'd never actually managed to get to one of their concerts. It was good to hear them playing together, both the senior and junior orchestras. I picked up a CD after the concert, so will look forward to giving that a listen.

The vocal ensemble from Hamilton Grammar did a great job with some beautiful singing, and some voices that belied their young years. Here they are pictured joining Da Capo Alba for a medley of Christmas songs.

Another good night - all to help raise funds for the Hamilton Churches Drop-In Centre - so well done to all involved.

An Alternative Santa Story

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Pietari in Rare Exports

I just love finding weird and quirky films that far surpass one's expectations. Tonight I found (thanks to LoveFilm who have it on their film streaming service on the PS3) a perfect example of this in the Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale that was first released for Christmas 2010. If you are feeling a little jaded at hackneyed and treacly Christmas films, then can I suggest a look at Jalmari Helander's first feature film. It is extraordinary and quite wonderful, but definitely not in an "A Wonderful Life" kinda way! [There's more...]

The Now and the Future

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Neil Oliver in Africa

I just finished watching Neil Oliver's excellent opening documentary in a short series, The Last Explorers, based around the lives and impact of four Scottish explorers. The first film centred on our own Blantyre-born missionary explorer, David Livingstone. Based on this, I think I'll set the TiVo to record the other episodes.

The series had been mentioned to me earlier in the week, knowing the Blantyre connection, as there had been some press making the connection to a warts 'n' all exhibition on Livingstone due in 2012 at the National Museum of Scotland. The film also was not going to pull any punches about Livingstone, noting his appalling neglect of his family and even the lies he told in his letters back to London on how successful his mission was being, in order to keep the funding coming.

Food for worms, lads

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Tomorrow night at Cosy Café Sundays we are continuing to explore what it means to live as Children of Light, followers of Christ. We're going to think a little about opportunities, and whether or not we seize them when they arise. The teaching from Jesus will be the Parable of the Talents, but before we get to that we have planned what should be a brilliant opening illustration of taking our opportunities when they arise with a kind of Crystal Maze challenge made up of six different challenges and culminating in a play off between the two best teams when they will get a chance in a "cash grabber".

Community is... remembering

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Remembrance Day Image

The image and this post's theme come from Sunday's Remembrance service. I'm just about to go down to Auchinraith Primary to lead a Remembrance Day Assembly, and have been finalising Sunday's service too. I found our Moderator, Rt Rev David Arnott's prayer very helpful myself for today.

A life-changing experience

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Lindsey Cooper in Kiberia

Another post that I wanted to write last week but did not have time for! On Wednesday night last week we had a gathering of folks in the Nazarene Hall to hear Lindsey Cooper talking in more detail about her trip to Kenya during the summer.

We even got to try out some of the "porridge" that was a staple for the young kids in the slum in Kiberia, but not porridge like you or I know it. This was just flour, water and sugar. Despite this meagre dish, we were all left with much food for thought in how we can encourage and support Lindsey in her challenge to do something to support the young children who wander the slum all day while their parent(s) are trying to earn enough to survive. Some of the guys in the Beer 'n' Bible group I know are thinking about this at the moment. We'll keep you all up to date with what is happening. [There's more...]

The Big Questions

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Questions Marks

At Cosy Café Sundays last weekend (I'm catching up with blog posts I had hoped to post but had not time to do last week!) we talked about learning and wisdom. We had a very fun "Generation Game" activity with Giovanni, a pizza chef from The Golden Fry who showed us how to make the pizza base, including twirling the dough around in the air - very impressive!

Giovanni, Pizza Chef

Three teams of two then had two minutes to try to make their own dough bases, with Giovanni giving a score at the end of the time. 

The point, of course, was that we are not born knowing everything, we have to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom, in skill and ability. We may have lots of potential, but unless that finds an expression (and it can do so in a myriad different ways) then the potential is wasted. We learnt from Giovanni a new skill on Sunday night, emphasising that the role of those we learn from is crucial.

Safe Space

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Communion at OneKirk Conference

Many months of planning led to today's "What kind of church?" conference in Edinburgh, organised by OneKirk, a network I've been involved with since its inception some five years ago. The day was a tremendous blessing for, I pray, all of us who attended and participated. Certainly the buzz of conversation at lunch time, and the discussions in the eleven different groups were testament to the way that everyone wanted to use this time to talk through some of the issues raised by today's speakers.

The day began and ended with worship, the image above taken just as we set up the communion elements on the Communion Table, with one of the discussion groups in mid-conversation in the background.

Most encouraging were the comments received at the end of the day from people who had deeply appreciated being able to set aside some time and space (safe space, in that people could say what they liked, albeit with a sense of grace and sensitivity to each other) to talk passionately and coherently about the big issues that face the Kirk, from what kind of community are we (in a radically different and more secular culture than would have been the case even 50 years ago), to how we read the Bible, make sense of it, and let it shape the lives we live.

The middle way

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Entrance to Lego Church

It has been a quiet blog following the half-term holiday which I took off to be full-time dad with the family, and then this week trying to catch up with work.

This week, amongst all the regular ministry of the week, I've inevitably being led to thinking about the church; and to do so on three different levels. Thinking about the church at a national level, at a presbytery level and in our own local community there are striking parallels that have been going through my mind in terms of how we move forward, albeit the issues that face each level are different.

An A-Z of Harvest Thanks

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Harvest Teddy Bear

At our Harvest Thanksgiving service yesterday we all got very creative in creating a communal prayer of thanks to God for the rich variety of foods we enjoy. We went through the whole alphabet a letter at a time, trying to remember everything that went before, and ultimately came up with the following Harvest Prayer.

Born to Love

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Meeting at Tackling Poverty Conference

Around 90 people met this morning at the Blantyre Miner's Welfare Resource Centre in conference to think about Tackling Child Poverty. Amongst the eclectic group were representatives from the council, health care, voluntary groups, service providers, churches, youth workers, teachers, and community leaders. This particular conference was centred around the needs of Blantyre, Hamilton and Larkhall.

The first speaker was an educational psychologist, Zeta Anich, who spoke about the importance of "attachment" for the development of children in the earliest months and years. Perhaps we forget just how important those first years are, and the impact a positive and loving environment can have for young children as they grow and develop into mature adults. 

Cadbury, Capitalism and Christianity

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Cadbury's Bournville Factory

Late last night I finished reading the book "Chocolate Wars" From Cadbury to Kraft: 200 years of Sweet Success and Bitter Rivalry by journalist and author Deborah Cadbury. No prizes for working out that she is a part of the family that built up, ran and owned Cadbury for most of that 200 years.

I mentioned the book during the sermon a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about community and the need for members of the community to live rightly: to live well with each other, respecting each other, and in all aspects of life living with the principles that God gives us, epitomised in the Ten Commandments, written upon our hearts and minds. While I knew that the company, as with the other great British confectioners, Fry and Rowntree, was founded by families with strong Christian faith, as members of the Quakers, I don't think I had quite realised the impact that this had on the companies and communities in which these confectioners created their wondrous treats: the "food of the Gods".

The impact that their convictions and faith had makes what has happened over the last two years with the hostile takeover of Cadbury by American giant Kraft Foods all the more upsetting. The capitalist system won, but at what long-term cost? [There's more...]