Peter's Blog

And now, the end is near...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The death of Jean Valjean

Two films I had long been wanting to see were released on disk this past week and I snapped them up and watched them last night and the night before.

The first was, of course, Les Miserables. Despite that two of my kids saw it not once, but twice at the cinema, once with Carolyn and another time with friends, it was about time I got to watch it having missed the opportunity on the big screen. I can certainly see why the film has created so much buzz. I enjoyed the performances tremendously and the cinematography was superb. The feedback from others was that the film was a weep festival... tissues at the ready! But...

It's all geek to me

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As a self-confessed geek, I was amused to read a blog post by another geeky minister, Mark Sandlin, from the PC(USA) contrasting geek culture and the church in the 21st century. Have a read of 10 Things Church Can Learn From Geeks.

Having seen with Andrew last Saturday the new Star Trek movie which I loved for all the references to the past (which I had to explain to Andrew) Sandlin's last of his ten points made me chuckle:

My first recollection of geeking out about something was Star Trek. Yes, the original series. One of the things I've come to love about it was the way it pushed us into new frontiers without bashing us over the head. Story and metaphor softened the blow of moral imperatives for a more fully functioning society based on equality. The further I went into the geek culture the more of this kind prophetic behavior I noticed. I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it. Come to think of it, Jesus told a lot of parables that did the same thing. I read those too. Once again, I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it.

Sure, some of these points overlap and not all of these are perfect correlations. They're not really meant to be. And sure, in some ways we are comparing reality and make believe, but let's not pretend like some of our Church practices aren't human made constructs. Some church people will be offended. Some geeks will be offended. I imagine portions of each will totally disown and disavow me for even thinking these thoughts, but who knows, maybe there was another misquote in the Bible. Maybe it wasn't the kingdom of God that was at hand, maybe it was the fandom of God.

Words, Confusion and Justice

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Storm in a teacup

I confess I was a little frustrated last week to read the storm in a teacup that had blown up over the publication (since withdrawn for some edits) of a report by the Church and Society Council ahead of the General Assembly next week. The report, titled "The Inheritiance Of Abraham? A Report On The 'Promised Land'" was perhaps not as clear as it should have been on the implicit assumptions within the Kirk that the nation of Israel has a right to exist, that all violence and acts of terror should be condemned, and that the Kirk deplores any anti-semitism. These have been affirmed in a press release subsequently released, but they were always implicit in the Kirk's understanding of the report.

The brouhaha over the report does reveal both the power and limitation of words, and the ease with which people can misunderstand the author's intention.

The Great Unknown

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Do you remember those algebra lessons at school? And the unknown numbers (the 'independent variable') that were represented by 'x' in all those equations?

Today the letter 'x' appears everywhere. We have x-ray machines (from a time when we did not fully understand what x-rays were), the x-factor, x-men, the x-files, generation X, and on and on.

But why the letter 'x'? It is something to do with Arabic and Spain...

Terry Moore explains:


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Spring Grass

Welcome to my personal blog! This is something I have been doing for a number of years now, and for the next couple of months I will be continuing to add to my existing blog while also duplicating here where the blog will find its new home. I will also begin to move the many hundreds of articles in that existing blog to this new site as an archive.

So this is a time of re-freshing. Something new is happening, and yet it is also a very tangible recognition for me that we are also shaped by our pasts and the journey we have been on.

What is a blog, you might ask? If you have not come across one before, it is a kind of online diary - a space to share thoughts, ideas, news, and the ramblings of, in this instance, a busy parish minister. It is a personal blog, meaning that the contents are the thoughts of the person writing, they do not represent anyone else. The same goes for any comments that might be added to the blog, these are the thoughts of the people who comment.

So please do join me, add a comment or two, I will write when I can, and when the blog goes quiet you will know it is because I am busy with other things.

Picnic Praise

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Picnic Praise

This summer the David Livingstone Centre are hosting a "Picnic Praise" afternoon that has been organised by the staff at the centre along with Calderside Chaplaincy Team with the support of Hamilton Presbytery.

This event is open to all from across the region and particular encouragement is given to churches to make this an outing this summer. The activities are appropriate for all ages. Please bring a blanket and picnic with you. 

  • Praise Concert led by Fischy Music
  • Traditional games
  • Play area for young children
  • Bouncy castle
  • Face painting
  • Tours of Museum
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Large park area

Sunday 23 June 2013
1-4 p.m.
David Livingstone Centre

Further Spillage... Issue 8 Available

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Spill the Beans Issue 8 Cover

Issue 8 of Spill the Beans is now available for download. This takes us through the first half of the long post-Pentecost season. Spanning 26 May to 25 August 2013, the issue is broken into two sections. In the first we concentrate on the story of the prophets Elijah and Elisha before returning to the gospels for the second half. We are delighted to be able to reproduce the long out-of-print retelling of Elijah's story by the late actor and writer David Kossoff in this issue; a perfect means to enter the world of these ancient prophetic voices and the times in which they served God.

Inside you will find worship ideas and resources, including Bible notes, stories, prayers, reflections, music suggestions, and more, and for age groups you will find suggestions for activities, crafts, games and teen discussion resources.

Wedding Bells

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Isla and Claus Cutting the Cake

It was a very busy week last week, with the kids off at the moment, of course. We had a day away to Twynholm in Dumfries & Galloway and the Cocoa Bean Company which proved great fun and worth a visit, though it isn't cheap if the kids are going to do the full chocolate factory experience and create their own chocolates. None of which, it should be said, have been offered around!

In amidst putting together the next issue of Spill the Beans, which is always difficult around Easter, the week saw the final preparations for a big day on Saturday as my sister and Claus were married at Crutherland House in East Kilbride. It was such a privilege for me to be able to lead that service, with our mum providing the music and our older two girls doing the readings. A special moment for us all in the Johnston and Noel clans that doesn't come round often.

Friends from Gravesend made the trip north to be there which was really fab, bringing back lots of memories.

A good day. And every blessing for Isla, Claus, Ella and Olivia!

A eulogy for Jesus

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In the Good Friday service this evening I used an idea from a friend, Donald McCorkindale, who mentioned that he had used a funeral service as the basis for a Good Friday service. I did the same this evening adapting one of the funeral liturgies that I use. It was a very moving experience for me to prepare a funeral service for Jesus for the moments after he was laid in the tomb. 

From the words of those who left the service this evening, it was equally powerful for them as it had been for me. What would you say if you were writing the tribute for Jesus?

Leading by example

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This is really good to see. Pope Francis breaks with tradition, as is becoming something of a habit for him, for the Mass for Holy Thursday. Normally the Pope would celebrate it at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, but Pope Francis decided he would officiate it at a juvenile detention centre in Rome, saying to the youngsters "I wash your feet to remind you that we have to help each other."

In another break from tradition, Francis washed the feet of two girls. A sign of changes to come, I wonder? Traditionally, foot washing has been all male remembering that Jesus washed the feet of the twelve male disciples.

Mandatum Novum

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Maundy Thursday

It is Maundy Thursday today, and I saw someone on facebook reflecting on the meaning of the word 'maundy'. It is derived from the Latin mandatum, and its use here comes from Jesus' words to his disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you" which translates in Latin as "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos". The word 'mandate' comes from this root too.

This evening we celebrated in fellowship in the hall, journeyed to our upper room to remember the Last Supper and ended at the doorway to the church with a newly filled planter (thanks, Geoff Krawczyk) which represented the Garden of Gethsemane for us.

Antisectarianism Panel

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Antisectarianism Display

On Monday afternoon I had the privilege to step into David Burt's shoes representing the Church of Scotland for a Question Time panel organised by Glenlee Primary and John Ogilvie High School. The children had been doing a power of work together on sectarianism and displays along one of the corridors and in the hall graphically illustrated some of the work they had been doing.

On the panel was Dr Robin Jamieson (working with Community Links on sectarianism), Jim Reid (headteacher at Glenlee), David Scott (representing Nil by Mouth), Alison Logan (from Sense over Sectarianism), Father Matthew Despard (St John Ogilvies Roman Catholic Church) and myself, with representation also from Cooperative Funeral Care who had helped sponsor the project.

It has to be said, it was a very harmonious response to all the questions the children raised, unanimously seeking to find ways to continue the progress made to eliminate the blight of sectarianism that still can rear its ugly head. Respect of each other and the responsibility to ensure that our own actions do not add to the tribalism of the West of Scotland were frequent responses. [There's more...]

The God Question

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Discussion with The God Question

With a group of around a hundred other folks, I travelled through the snow on Saturday morning to Chatelherault Country Park where a breakfast conference was being held to launch some new discussion materials.

We met inside the country house, rather a nice wee pile, for bacon rolls before heading to the auditorium for the presentation by the folks from Search for Truth Enterprises. The discussion materials are called “The God Question” and comprise the usual DVDs and study books. The main areas covered are “The Cosmos and God”, “Life, Evolution and God”, and “God and Consciousness”. I confess I went with a healthy dose of scepticism as someone who has, for my own personal reasons relating to my own background in science, done considerable reading around all three of these subjects over the years. However, I was heartened by what I heard. [There’s more…]

More on Livingstone's Legacy

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Rev Steve Younger as Livingstone

This past week has been very Livingstone focused! It has been a good week and I had hoped to put down some thoughts before this but this has been the first moment to stop and breathe!

After the events last Sunday which I mentioned in a previous blog post, on the actuall bicentenary of Dr David Livinsgtone's birth, 19 March, there were a number of events to commemorate this anniversary. The first took place in the David Livingstone Centre and was a great morning with lots of involvement from local schools, music and drama (with a wonderful performance from Toto Tales as Susi and Chumah, Livingstone's companions, recounted their travels with Livingstone) and the offical opening of a new exhibit in the museum.

Blantyre's Bairn

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Livingstone Bicentenary Service

Yesterday afternoon, Sunday 17 March, one of the events to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the most famous of Blantyre Bairns, Dr David Livingstone, was held in Livingstone Memorial Parish Church. From our lofty perch in the gallery we joined in the worship led by a number of ministers both from Scotland and Malawi. The sermon was given by Rt Rev Albert Bogle, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rev David Burt blessed a set of pulpit and lectern falls as Moderator of Hamilton Presbytery, while prayers were led by Rev Dr T Nyasulu, Moderator of Livingstonia Synod, and Rev Mercy Chilapula, Moderator of Blantyre Synod, in Malawi. As you can tell, the service was very well moderated!

As part of the celebrations of Livingstone's bicentenary, and as part of a number of events taking place in Scotland and London, both Her Excellenecy Mrs Joyce Banda, President of Malawi, and Alex Salmond MSP were present with Mrs Banda reading from Isaiah (49:1-7) during the service, and with Mr Salmond giving a note of thanks and cutting a celebratory cake after the service.

In memory of a good friend

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Presentations at Auchinraith

It was a privilege this morning to join John Prentice and family and friends for a special presentation held at Auchinraith Primary School. In memory of their gran, Sheila Prentice, Ellie and Ross presented two cheques of £870 each to Marie Cure Cancer Care and Macmillan Cancer Support. Ellie and Ross had spent many, many hours creating bracelets (some of which were available at the funeral service for Sheila in the church) which were given away to encourage people to make a donation for these two charities. They did an amazing job, and it was great to see all the pupils at Auchinraith singing Fischy Music's "You are a star" to them.

Every blessing to Anne Jarvie from Marie Curie Cancer Care and Chloe Martin from Macmillan Cancer Support as they support the work of these charities, and to Julie McCulloch and everyone at Auchinraith for making this presentation such a special event.

Clarity, Reality and the Word of God

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Bible and Love

In the post yesterday I received a DVD titled "Facing the Reality: Can someone in a same-sex relationship be a Christian minister?" These are being sent out to all ministers in the Church of Scotland. I heard about the video last week and watched it via YouTube (a link is below the jump).

I have subsequently heard that this is the result of a meeting back in 2011 when around 50 ministers of a "traditionalist" stance within the Kirk asked themselves how they could express their view in "a thoughtful and gracious rather than rabid and homphobic" way. They raised the money to finance the production of the film, commissioning Sanctus Media to make it.

There is little new within the content of the film, which rehearses the same arguments I have read and heard many times, but the tone of the film is certainly an improvement on past interventions into the Kirk's ongoing discussions on the place and role of gay and lesbian people within the church. In the debates of 2009 we had some conservative ministers referred to as "terrorists", and the fight to prevent the acceptance of the ministry of gay and lesbian people likened to defending against Nazi expansionism. From both extremes of the debate, not very edifying or helpful. So it is good to see a less harsh and aggresive presentation of the "traditionalist" position within the film. However, as much as I am thankful for that more generous presentation, nonetheless it is the content that I cannot reconcile. 

The Last Days...

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Witness Chair

Almost every week I share an hour with a friend from Trinity Parish Church while we wait as one of my kids and her two grandchildren are at guitar class. Our venue is the coffee shop at the East Kilbridge Arts Centre. On numerous occasions over the past couple of years I have seen plays advertised and thought to myself I'd really like to see that, but the business of life and lack of free nights has always put paid to those notions. However, last Thursday I noticed the posters for a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis titled "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot". That fairly piqued my interest and when I got home and checked the diary, I decided to hang with it, a few hours relaxation surely need to be scheduled sometimes! So I booked a ticket for tonight's performance.

Needless to say, as the day has come around I started wishing I had not booked it as I have a pile of "to-dos" weighing down. But, having paid my £9 (you see there is a bit of Aberdonian in me!), I trekked back over to East Kilbride for the third time today (first time for a meeting with churches, second time for guitar classes) and I am so very glad that I did, even though I am going to pay for it for the rest of the night/tomorrow!

What a full house in the cosy theatre were treated I found to be an extremely powerful exploration, in turns viciously funny, poignant and deeply emotional, of both the wonder and desolation of free will. The performance was by the HND Acting and Performance students from Motherwell College. They excelled themselves. I was very impressed. 

News from Aberdeen

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Welcome Banner

This past weekend I was preaching as sole-nominee at Ferryhill Parish Church in Aberdeen. We were made to feel very welcome by everyone which made the day that little easier - it is an odd feeling to be leading worship with the additional knowledge that judgement is awaiting imminently! There is none of that 'don't count the days' thing that Jesus talked about...

There was great affirmation for us, however, with a unanimous vote. I have duly accepted, so the processes of the Kirk will begin their activity towards an induction date which will take place probably nearer the summer.

The long gap between now and then still makes it a little unreal, but there is a lot to do in the time between, so the time will no doubt pass quickly.

Time to pack up now, I write from our hotel room in Aberdeen, for our return to Blantyre later today.

Foodbank Funding Beetles On

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Nicola Simpson explaining the rules

We had a very fun night this evening in the Nazarene Hall with a Beetle Drive organised to raise funds for the developing new Hamilton District Foodbank. It was a competitive night, but with a lot of laughter too. Congratulations to Alice Jamieson who was the champion beetle driver!

Thanks to everyone who donated prizes and homebakes, and to Nicola, Linda, Marion, Elizabeth, Karen, Geoff and everyone else who helped get the evening planned and set up.