Peter's Blog

It begins...

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Shepard Fairey's images of Barack Obama

Sorry for the lack of posts in recent days. We've been a flu-bound house all week. Nonetheless, it raised the spirits to see Obama's historic inauguration on Tuesday.

And already it has begun: orders to close Guantanamo Bay, to outlaw the use of torture and the use of secret  prisons around the globe to which prisoners have been renditioned. Orders for increased openness after eight years of secrecy. If you saw Obama's inauguration speech you will have seen that he made no bones of his intent to reverse much of Bush's policies. That had to be painful for Bush sitting right behind him at the time...

Eddie Izzard on Bird Strikes

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I wouldn't put this up if everything had ended in disaster, but again out of sheer admiration for the pilot and first officer of US Air flight 1549 we can ponder and laugh with Eddie Izzard on the ridiculousness of calling it "bird strikes". 

Fruit Trees

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Painting a Fruit Tree

We are starting a theme during morning worship over the next months looking at the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23) and I thought a good prop especially to use during the all-age time in the service would be a fruit tree that we can decorate as the weeks go by. 

After cutting out a suitable tree-ish shape out of mdf the kids all played their part in painting it. Now need to find somewhere in the church to fix it for the next weeks...

This week it is the first fruit: love. 

Birds and Planes

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I am sure like me you have been amazed that no-one lost their lives in the landing of an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River of New York City. All credit to the captain and his crew. The talk is all about a double bird strike taking out both engines as the plane took off. Want to see what a bird strike can do? Here is a video from Manchester airport. Imagine this happening to both engines... 

The train rolls on...

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Moderator at Re-Energise 4

After getting back from Aviemore I was hoping to have a day or so to reflect on the days away, but alas I also knew I had an article to write for the March issue of Life & Work. That took rather longer to prepare than I thought it would. The word limit of 800 words was proving rather tricky to stick to... but I just about got there in a piece that bridges the two foci of that issue of the magazine: children and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin.

Welcome home

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Michele Guinness

Day Three of the Church Without Walls Conference. At the moment I am listening to Michele Guinness speaking on the story of the Prodigal Son. I first heard Michele speaking at The National Gathering back in May 2008 where her humour and thoughtfulness shone though. Here, this morning, she already has everyone in the auditorium laughing away and shouting out responses to her questions.

Building on Heritage

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Donald Smith

Day Two of the Re-Energise 4 Conference organised by Church Without Walls Planning Group and this morning we had a great talk by Donald Smith of the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. He got us all thinking about our own stories and how our heritage, what formed what we are from our past, inevitably shapes who we are in the present, and who we become in the future.

Coming Home 2009?

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Coming Home Welcome Banner

I picked up a roll-up welcome banner from a local printer yesterday that I had designed for the Church Without Walls conference Coming Home 2009? taking place Sunday-Tuesday in Aviemore. The banner came out okay and matches all the other publicity.

You can see the programme from the Church Without Walls website - there is a good range of speakers and seminars taking place and of course lots of worship, fellowship and talking about ideas, which is always uplifting and encouraging.

This conference will, at least in part, be exploring ways in which the church can be involved and take benefit from the Homecoming Scotland initiative that is taking place this year. I'll try to blog some of the highlights while I am in Aviemore. 

Sweet and Sour

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Watching Andrew trying to eat his sherbet while trying to keep a straight face was just too much this evening - had to grab the video camera as it was just too funny.

Very sweet... if sour!

The Transforming Spirit

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Bible Study in Malawi

The Times columnist Matthew Parris had an interesting take on Christian Missionary work in Africa in an article at the end of 2008. It is worth reading to hear how a self-avowed atheist can still recognise the transforming power of knowing Jesus and the power of good it can do in people's lives. Quite a hopeful piece to read for the new year.

Money quote:

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

Hat tip to Iain Cunningham for the link. 

God in a Box

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I'm always fascinated by the different images people have in mind when they think about God - at least in part because it tells you more about that person than about God, of course.

A team have been asking two questions of people all across the US as they make a documentary, called God in a Box. They ask:

  • What does God mean to you?
  • What does God look like, to you? 

How would you answer? What would you draw?

Want chips with that?

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Outside the Ubiquitous Chip

"Want chips with that?" is definitely not what you will hear at the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant. Set up in 1971 to defend the West of Glasgow from the ubiquitous chip found everywhere else it is still going strong.

It seems unbelievable as time has flown past but yesterday Carolyn and I celebrated our 14th year of married life and for lunch today while all the children were at school and nursery my parents treated us to lunch. The food was wonderful, so many thanks to them for a lovely treat! The Aberdeen Angus steak I had was delicious. In the menu there were full details about where all the foods used came from so you know you are supporting local businesses and farms.

However, I was brought back to earth on picking up the older girls from the school and sporting the new jacket I picked up in the M&S sales... I was greeted with, "Oh, daddy, you look silly! You look like a headmaster!!" 

Atheist or Agnostic?

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Atheist bus advert

It looks like Scotland is also going to get the controversial ads supported by Richard Dawkins (he of The God Delusion fame) on their buses in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow according to The Scotsman.

I must admit to being more amused than anything else by these advertisements. Why? Well, what on earth is an atheist advocate doing inserting "probably" to their advertisements? Surely this is more an advertisement for agnostics (those who just don't know)? If you really are a full-on atheist, shouldn't it read "There is no God..."?

However, my biggest bug-bear here is that the God that Dawkins' and others declaim is a God I hardly recognise either, and, truth be told, don't believe in myself. The God they rail about is the small-minded God of fundamentalism filled with vengeance, violence and petty judgement. The God I recognise and worship is God as revealed in Jesus: a God of limitless love, scandalous grace and reconciling peace. 


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Obama Rally in Edinburgh 2008

A surprise email came in today from the co-producer of a documentary following the wave of interest the US election has had around the world and the significant part this election will have in American history. He was present filming the rally I attended with the kids in Edinburgh a few days before the election took place - more about that here.

They are wanting to do a follow-up interview for around the time of Obama's inauguration later this month. All good fun. 

An eye for an eye...

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Father and son in Gaza

The situation in Gaza seems to be spiralling ever more towards the insane. If ever a region of the world needed for its own survival to recapture the power and transforming nature of love it is surely in this conflict that it can and will, I pray, make the biggest difference. For now, however, we have images like the above. And out is trotted the biblical mandate "eye for eye..." to defend revenge and retribution. Let us not forget that Jesus trumped that with "love your enemies".

Simon Barrow had a good piece yesterday on this subject On not being left eyeless in Gaza, a quote to whet your appetite:

The aphorism 'an eye for an eye' is Jewish in origin, but it has also been taken up in Christian and Muslim contexts, and has seeped far into secular usage too. The notion that this concept, as routinely understood, is just a religious idea is naive and ahistorical. Certain kinds of secular ideology have eagerly justified vengeance too.

In fact, however, the modern popular usage of 'an eye for an eye' is entirely misconceived.

What those who quote this famous phrase forget is that its original intention was not to amplify revenge, but rather to limit it. It is the law of proportionality that it seeks to instantiate - not advocacy of hatred and pre-emptive killing.

Come and see!

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Mother Teresa with an orphan child

An iconic photo of Mother Teresa from 1979 as she cradles an orphaned child with no arms in the orphanage she ran in Calcutta, India. (Photo by acclaimed photojournalist Eddie Adams.) In many ways Mother Teresa is an example to us of what it means to follow Christ in our lives, but I was particularly struck while reading Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical with his recollection of spending some time working in Calcutta with her.

Recession casualties

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If you want to know what a recession looks like, how about this? Pictures taken today in Woolworths at the Forge in Glasgow on their final day of trading. Even the shelving was up for grabs. There was something very sad about it all, even before you considered all the people losing their jobs within the stores, and, no doubt, amongst suppliers too.

Today M&S also announced 1,000 job cuts.

Which raises the question for us in the church: what can we do to bring hope to those losing their jobs?


Thank you, kids!

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Ibanez GSR200 Bass Guitar

For Christmas the children had all written out cheques for me with an amount of their choosing up to £25 as their present. The younger two gave the full whack, the other two for some reason that I haven't pursued decided I only deserved £20.50! I was going to save the money for a lens for my camera at some point in the future, but after being asked by my friend and colleague Iain Cunningham to play bass guitar at a Church Without Walls Conference next week, I thought I would use the money to buy a bass guitar. A bit of practise never hurt anyone, right?

As a fan of Ibanez I bought one of their low-end bass guitars (a GSR200) that Merchant City Music had on a fantastic deal and I am having a lot of fun playing it. It is a different technique to a regular guitar, but having played a guitar for many years you certainly have a head-start. A good knowledge of music theory also helps so you know what you are doing as far as harmonisation and chord structure goes. Not sure when it will appear on a Sunday morning during worship... but at some point... 

What not to say to a church visitor...

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Sacred Church Space

One of the great clichés of church life is that old chestnut example of "warm welcome" that goes something like, "You can't sit there! That is so-and-so's seat!" I've heard many tales of it, but it has never happened to me, I suppose because I'm usually sitting up front! However, it actually happened to us today.

Sons of David

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A representation of Solomon's Temple

One of my targets for my couple of week's break was to read a few books and yesterday I read a book written by Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus Wants To Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile, which has just been published. I managed to snag the last copy at Amazon and I note today they still are out of stock, though I am sure they will have more on the way!

What a great book! I have enjoyed reading both of Rob Bell's previous books, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith and Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality, and this latest went further to inspire and encourage. I have recommended Velvet Elvis to a number of people, and would have no hesitation in doing the same with this latest book.