Peter's Blog

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We are back!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

It has been a long break since I was last able to add to my blog. Very frustrating those months have been for us as the website had to be taken down after some malicious folks had managed to embed some code that meant the site was being used to send out spam email. That is not the kind of "spreading the word" we are about! It meant the site had to be taken down until we could resolve the problem.

After some attempts to find the errant code, I decided it was best to bite the bullet and try a complete reinstall so that we start again with a completely clean site. Thankfully, with a few issues along the way and no doubt a few gremlins that will rear there heads from missing content files, we seem to be back in business.

I have had so many different things that have happened over the past months that at the time I kept thinking 'I wish I could add a blog post about that', so I hope to get back into some sharing of thoughts here.

Anyway, glad to be back! More to come...

 

Keeping things in perspective

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Amongst the tense conversations and debate prior to the referendum, sometimes we need to keep some perspective. Here is Carl Sagan's monologue on "The Pale Blue Dot", the distant image of earth captured from Voyager 1 as it passed Saturn, with modern images accompanying. Humbling.

 

Yes or No?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Some of us love bipolar questions that require only a simple Yes or No answer. Others of us become mired in a muddy valley of uncertainty inbetween the two poles when confronted with a question like that which is even now being addressed to residents in Scotland: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

While the question is posed in the most simple terms, the issues that are raised in this simple question are undoubtedly complex. As much as one wants to educate oneself about the issues that are involved, whether in terms of the econony, the currency, social equity, defense, nuclear arms, EU membership, taxes, businesses, and so on, there is a limit to that understanding. Even professional economists give different opinions, so what hope for us mere mortals?

As many a psychologist will tell you, when you reach the limit of what is knowable or understandable (deciding with the head) then the heart takes over. And when that happens we tend to only seek out and absorb information that substantiates our previously held convictions - 'confirmation bias', as it is known. And, rather alarmingly, we tend to make decisions based on our heart much more frequently than we realise.

This is, undoubtedly, playing a major part in the run up to the referendum next week.

So what do I think and feel about it all?

Malawi Visit

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The Presbytery of Hamilton is currently hosting five visitors from Blantyre City Presbytery in Malawi who arrived on Friday 29 August and are staying until the middle of September. Last Saturday night a welcome dinner was held in Rubislaw Church Centre to properly welcome Rev Baxton Maulidi, Fanuel Blessings Mota, Christina Chirwa, Rev James Sande Makuleya and Wilson Chipumphula, pictured above with the Moderator of Aberdeen Presbytery, Rev Hugh Wallace, Councillor Martin Greig, and Convenor of the Blantyre Partnership Committee, Rev Dr Robert Smith.

It was a lovely night in which to meet our visitors and get to know them. I sat with James over dinner and he told those of us at our table that he had done some research into the history of the Blantyre Mission Station and had written a paper about it. I was delighted on Tuesday night at our presbytery meeting when James passed me a copy of his paper titled: "Blantyre Mission Station: A Wonderful Place To Reckon With". Needless to say, we had a great conversation about the two different Blantyres we each know so well. The strong connections between Malawi and Scotland are very evident in the paper.

An EV Update

Written by Peter Johnston on .

It's been a few months since my last update here on the blog about life as the driver of a purely electric vehicle, though I have added a couple of videos to YouTube over the summer which are proving helpful to people. Indeed, I have heard from a couple of folks who have contacted me to say the videos have helped sway them to go and purchase an electric vehicle themselves. Great stuff!

Last week we also had a couple of newspaper articles in the Evening Express and in the free Citizen paper about the plans to have a charging point installed at the church. This is currently going through the planning process with Aberdeen City Council, which has proven to be rather a complicated process. In the middle of that process I received communication from the Energy Saving Trust (who are funding the installation of the charger) with notice of updated legislation from the Scottish Government that was passed at the end of June that relaxes the planning rules on charging points to enable them to be installed without planning permission being required, however one of the remaining exceptions to this relaxation is in the case of conservation areas which would still apply to us. Good news, however, for other organisations or businesses who want to install charging points on their property.

Circus Capers

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Custard Pies

An extrememly busy week came to a close today for all the Summer Club Team as our "Roll Up For The Circus" holiday club came to an end in the service this morning in which we celebrated the week and gave thanks to God for all the fun and learning we had enjoyed over the week.

The culminatuion of the week, and indeed what we had been preparing for all week was a show for the Queen (thank you Rae Leslie!). We talked about the week that had been, letting everyone into some of what we had been doing and learning. Having been custard-pied on the first day of the holiday club, I was able after the end of the service to return the favour to Flingo the Juggler (Billy Pirrie) alas he did get his defence in first!

A huge thank you, pat on the back and three cheers to everyone in the team, coordinated and led by Fiona Firth. What a brilliant bunch you all are.

Narrative Embarkation

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 13 Cover

I have been desperately trying to get Issue 13 of Spill the Beans finished and published before we take some family time off, and so that I can turn to writing some extra bits and bobs for our Summer Holiday Club which is only a few weeks away. We had a very tight turnaround for the Spill the Beans Resource Team in order to make that happen, so a big thank you to everyone who got their contributions in by the deadlines!

We have actually taken a couple of steps back to the beginning of September with this issue, so that we can embark on a new journey with the Narrative Lectionary as our guide through the Scriptures for the next years. I have already written a bit about this change from the Revised Common Lectionary here and you can find more about why we have made this change here. Suffice to say, as a team we are excited about a new challenge with a lectionary plan that fits the general ethos of Spill the Beans, which has always been focussed on story.

Both to help me get a holiday, and for folks who are seeking to get a head start on the changes, a new look Spill the Beans Issue 13 is now available. 

Sunday Club LifeStraws

Written by Peter Johnston on .

This Sunday our service for the end of session for the Sunday Club focussed on two of the projects that the children have been thinking about and working on. The first being their fundraising initiative to support the Aberdeen Presbytery LifeStraws Project. The children told us about what they had been doing to learn about the shortage of clean water in many parts of the world and how a simple filtration system like a LifeStraw can make all the different for a family. To check how the LifeStraw worked, the children tried it themselves. See the video below.

The children of the Sunday Club had raised £140, and with a retiring collection into a mega Smarties tube after the service today this total swelled to £365. This is a fantastic contribution to the £10,000 that has been raised by churches and friends of the project across Aberdeen. This will provide around 200 family LifeStraw filters for families in Malawi.

Well done everyone!

We also presented the beautiful mosaic cross that the children have created over the past five weeks from old tiles. They have done a superb job and we are looking for a prominent place to put this.

 

Reunions at St Andrew's

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Lunch with Old Friends

Today we had a bit of a reunion in St Andrew's as Karen Harbison, David Burt, Jonathan Fleming and I with our families got together for a day on a showery beach and then some lovely grub at Zizzi's. We spent many years working together in Lanarkshire and had a blast while, we hope, doing some good too through numerous joint ministries and events. Everything is changing however. Jonathan is now in Erskine, Karen is in Greenock, we are up in Aberdeen and David was letting his congregation know on Sunday that he is in discussions to be moving on too.

It is great to have opportunities to get back together, it is not quite the same on facebook or catching up at meetings for other business, so I look forward to the next gathering.

Celebrating with God

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Celebrating Creation

It was different this morning, but in a good way. During the service everyone had the opportunity, if they wished, to travel around the seven focal points we had created last night. At each people had the chance to reflect on that "day" of the Genesis 1 creation story and what aspect of creation was being celebrated, whether it was light, water, earth, seasons and time, birds and fish, animals or humanity.

Doing something like this is always a bit of a step into the unknown, but it was heartening to hear how many people had found the experience one that enabled them to feel more engaged and involved in the act of worship. That was the intent, so it was good to hear people had experienced it in that way.

I was asked afterwards whether the guidance sheets we used would be available. Click here to download them.

We will be making up a smaller display which we'll keep for the next weeks to remind us of this journey of celebration we undertook today.

This evening we have our evening service and we are going to go to the other extreme... still dealing with sevens, however. A look at the seven deadly sins as opposed to the seven days of creative goodness. It will be interesting!

Celebrating Creation 2

Celebrating Creation

Written by Peter Johnston on .

In the service tomorrow we are focussing on the creation hymn found in Genesis 1, an outpouring of praise in thanks for all that we see around us in the universe and world. It would be hard to celebrate that by simply sitting in the pews... The story is one of action, creativity, movement, so we will be doing the same tomorrow as we explore the 'days of creation' from the first dawn onwards. 

The Worship Task Group and Sunday Club team were hard at work this afternoon after the wedding we had to prepare the church. It looks great and all is ready for the morning.

Thanks to Gwen, Hazel, Linda, Cecilia, Diane, Fiona, Ian and Billy for all the preparations.

We will also be singing a new hymn written by Diane Cumming for this Sunday. Words below the jump:

The Overspill

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Overspill Header Image

The last issue of Spill the Beans saw the creative team work the whole way through three years of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). It has been a good journey.

We felt it might be helpful if these were made available as a single pack for those who either came to Spill the Beans late and want the back issues or for those who want further resources that are based around the RCL. Indeed some of you have asked if the earlier issues would be made available. Here they are.

These are presented as is, however, which does mean that if used in the future you may find, depending on when Easter falls, that there is a gap in the cycle. You have been warned! We would love to be able to go back and fill in those holes, but time does not allow for looking back as the Team are already now in the process of creating Issue 13 and embarking on a new chapter for Spill the Beans as we have decided to experiment with a move to the Narrative Lectionary as our scriptural plan.

Within this overspill pack you will, however, find a collective 1,536 pages of resources (okay, there are a few blank pages in there to help with printing the booklets) covering worship ideas, age group ideas, special events during the liturgical calendar, and a whole pile of beany goodness. And all this for a mere £50.

 

A Last Reflection

Written by Peter Johnston on .

This morning in the sermon I will be quoting a section from the last reflection given by Rt Rev John Chalmers on the final day of the General Assembly when he talks about ecclesiology (our understanding of the church).

It is worth reading his reflection in its entirety but it is a little difficult to find on the Church of Scotland website. Click here and it should open up for you (it is an Adobe pdf file).

Songs of Freedom

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Maya Angelou

I just heard that Maya Angelou, the American author, poet, dramatist, essayist, civil-rights activist, producer, and more for she was an astonishingly prophetic and powerful voice over many decades, died today at the age of 86. She leaves a huge body of work that will not be forgotten, and a lasting legacy for generations who listened to her and read her.

I have been trying to remember the first time I came across Angelou. I know it was as a teenager and I was blown away by what she said, and perhaps even more by how she said it during a TV interview. It is strange that I cannot remember the reason for her speaking (though I think it may have been around the time of Artists United Against Apartheid in the 80s), but I sure remember the impact it had.

Rest in Peace, Maya, and thank you for all that you have given the world.

One of my favourite poems or hers below:

A big step forward

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Desktop prepared for GA

Last night I drove down to Edinburgh to meet with folks from the OneKirk Network for dinner, something of a tradition during the General Assembly week. I didn't think I would be able to make it but a meeting here in Aberdeen was cancelled and the evening freed up. It was an uneventful drive down, and I was very chuffed to make it all the way down to Kinross on one charge in the car (95 miles) though there was not a lot of electrical magic left in the battery when I got to the charger. Alas, the Edinburgh University charger was hopeless, but I had enough charge to get back to Kinross on my way home, so no great loss, though it did prove a late night by the time I got home after 3 a.m. It was a lovely night, however, and of course cost me £0 to get down there! Had to rub that in...

It was also good to talk to those who were commissioners at the GA. I have watched on and off, earlier in the week, the online coverage from the Assembly, but you don't always get a proper feel for the mood of the Assembly when watching from afar.

This was ahead of today's big debate taking place over the Theological Forum's report on the church operating as a 'mixed economy' and the Legal Questions Committee's 'Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Overture".

Unity and/or Justice

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Unity

A good number of years ago, indeed it was a scary seven years ago, some friends and I organised a panel discussion during the 2007 General Assembly at which a report titled "A Challenge to Unity" was presented that related to sexuality. The evening discussion was titled "The Cost of Unity". Since the beginnings of the current debate about sexuality and the church - which the press often relate back to 2009, but that really goes further back than that - I have always been interested in this line of tension between a broad church which allows room for different views within its body and a sense of Christian unity.

Right from the start of this debate it was clear in my mind that while unity is something to be treasured, it is not to be treasured at all costs. And if the lofty goal of unity means doing hurt to others, discriminating against others, or denying others from being able to serve God as God calls, then unity as an end in itself is no longer a blessing for the Christian community. It has become a shackle by which to control others, rather than an ennervating and joyful expression of unified purpose. I see similarities here to the debates over the Sabbath that Jesus had with the law makers in his own time. The Sabbath is not an end in itself, it is good and holy only in so much as it enhances life and relationship with God for all.

STB Issue 12: The Final Cycle

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 12

And breathe... this issue, for some reason, has been a bit of a challenge to get finalised. We stretched it out to the middle of September as this fit with the themes we were following in Matthew's gospel and that seems to have made a bit of a difference. But... it is now here, resplendent in multi-flavoured creativity as befits an issue that begins with a Bang! A Big Bang! Or something like that...

Beyond Issue 12...

The mathematicians amongst you will have realised that this is now a full three years of the official Spill the Beans books (now that we are regularly 150 pages, it is hard to call these publications booklets any longer), not counting the pilot issues we also produced in the previous two years. So some of the Spill the Beans Team have been playing at this particular experiment in sharing resources and ideas for five years, and over these past 12 issues we have worked through a complete cycle of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary that we have used to source the Bible readings for each Sunday.

We are now at the point of deciding what we do for the next year. Do we do something different, perhaps using some form of homegrown lectionary plan (which has been an idea we have been toying with for the past 18 months), investigate other lectionary plans that are available or carry on with another cycle through the RCL. Whatever we decide to do does not just have implications for the next issue, but will set us on a trajectory for the next three or four years, so we have not rushed a decision.

The least of these...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Many years ago when I was working with Ian Groves at Inverurie West to illustrate the sermon Ian was giving I dressed up in my oldest most ragged clothes (this was not that hard), did not shave for a few days, donned bonnet and hooded top with dark glasses. Midway through the service I stumbled in through one of the back doors as Ian talked (studiously ignoring me), and lurched down one of the aisles, mumbling to myself. I sat in a pew for a few minutes, before getting up to wander around the church before heading out of one of the doors, still stumbling and muttering.

It proved a perfect illustration for Ian later in the service as no one got up to ask me if I was okay or to offer assistance.

In a variation on this kind of social experiment, the New York City Rescue Mission have carried out their own. The powerful results you can watch above. They say:

In this social experiment, unsuspecting people walked by relatives pretending to be homeless. Would they notice their family members? Or have the homeless become invisible?

 

It is finished

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Rev Adam Smallbone

I watched, as no doubt many of us did, the final episode of the third series of Rev last night. I'd seen the previous two episodes back to back the night before. In the best traditions of British TV, it would appear that the makers of this unlikely sitcom are going to stop while they are ahead (think also of Fawlty Towers, The Office). There is part of me that would like to see more, but there is another part of me that thinks it was a perfect, messy place to cry "It is finished!"

When watching the first series my abiding memory, which has remained to today, was "how did this get made?" Not because it was so bad, but rather because it was so very good and, in my experience, very real. I know many of my colleagues in ministry who also love the show because it touches raw nerves that we all know so well. Thinking it was a completely niche show I was very pleasantly surprised to see it renewed for a second series, and then a third series. 

Prior Agendas

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Press and Journal

Today's Press and Journal is running with an exclusive (above are pictures of the Moray edition - thank you, Shuna Dicks!) from their correspondent Cameron Brooks under the headlines "Thousands quit Kirk as gay clergy row rages" and "People walk away from Kirk in droves". Brooks is basing his report on the annual publication of membership statistics for the Kirk as it appears in the Blue Book (the General Assembly Reports book). His article states, "Nearly 50,000 people have abandoned Scotland's national church in just three years."

Reading between the lines, the purpose of this reporting seems to be to gin up "the fight" ahead of the General Assembly and the ongoing debate relating to allowing congregations to call a minister living in a civil partnership should they wish to do so - this report is contained in the Legal Questions Committee, and there is theological support for a mixed economy approach to this issue in a report from the new Theological Commission (a very good report, I thought). The tenor of the P&J's reporting is that the church's deliberations on this are the cause of people walking away in droves from the Kirk. This is a highly distorted view of the reality, and certainly not how I would interpret the data. But then numbers are so easily recruited to one's own prior agenda. What was it that Twain/Disraeli said about "lies, damned lies and statistics"?