Peter's Blog

Jesus' transforming presence

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Steve Younger storytelliing at Bubblegum 'n' Fluff

In this morning's penultimate Bubblegum 'n' Fluff event for P6 children held in Trinity Church in Hamilton, I witnessed the transforming power of an encounter with Jesus. It is often (usually?) in surprising ways that we witness God at work, and today was no exception. 

As I have mentioned in previous posts, as we pull the fluff from around the bubblegum to reveal what's underneath, and explore the reason why we celebrate Christmas we have three stories about Jesus and how he transformed the lives of many of those he met. 

Animal ballet?

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Bizarre and yet strangely captivating...

(I hope no animals were harmed in the making of this film!) 

What does Christmas mean to you?

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Wreath with Christmas Hopes

For the Christmas Assemblies at Calderside Academy the chaplaincy team had asked if a group of the students could do some vox-pops asking their fellow students what Christmas means to them. I picked up the raw footage DVD today and have had a quick look. There are some great responses, including a wonderful Aussie outlook!

I'll try and get it all edited together tomorrow afternoon between the pensioner's Christmas lunch and a meeting at Auchinraith Primary to plan their Christmas service. I'll put up a copy here when it is done, so check back for that later in the week.

Resistance is futile...?

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Sophie Scholl, played by Julia Jentsch

The title of this post is borrowed from a Star Trek film which in turn borrowed it from Douglas Adams' use of the phrase "Resistance is useless" by the Vogons as they arrest Arthur Dent et al. The phrase has become a cultural meme to represent overwhelming authoritarian power and the seemingly feeble resistance of a few to that power.

In the end, of course, the phrase is usually used ironically as we know that the dominant authority can be unveiled by resistance. The phrase sprang to mind while watching a German film that was recommended to me by my father-in-law called Sophie Scholl. (There's more...)

Ideas I wish I had had...

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Ebay headquarters

I don't know about you, but I sometimes find myself thinking about some of the mega-companies that rule in the information world and think to myself: "Now why couldn't I have thought of that?!" Take ebay as an example. The auction website has made it easy, cool and sometimes even profitable to buy and sell secondhand goods. And I wish I had thought of it!

Don't anyone tell my kids, but I just bought a camera for one of the girls for Christmas. For the same cost as a new cheap and nasty "kids camera" that will take awful pictures (I know as Katherine spent some of her own money on one during the summer holidays - it looks fun but the pictures are hopeless) I was able to pick up a four year old camera that was a superb model in its day. I like to encourage the kids with photography, and far better to get to grips with a real camera at an early age, especially when it costs no more than a toy. Viva ebay! 

An Elegy for Variety

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Axl Rose and Yo-Yo Ma

I've had a couple of eclectic additions to the CD collection this past week, and I've been enjoying both tremendously. First was Guns 'n' Roses first new album in 14 years, the provocatively titled Chinese Democracy. Unsurprisingly the Chinese government are up in arms about the album! It is a great album of powerful bombastic rock - and you need to turn it up for best effect - which is great timing as our neighbours are away on holiday! I've been introduced to a new guitarist through it: Buckethead, who, I kid you not, plays with a KFC bucket on his head... which doesn't stop him from being a pretty superb player. (There's more...)

Hackers + Nurseries = Stress

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The Scream by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch's famous The Scream sums up the week pretty well. If you have tried to access the website over the last few days you will have noticed something was not right. The site was hacked by some egit in the small hours of Wednesday morning (3:06 a.m. to be exact!) causing no end of grief and heartache trying to get it resolved. This was not helped by finding out that the webhost's daily backup was done just minutes after the hacker had done his devious work meaning that restoring from the backup was not an option. For a good portion of yesterday I thought I had lost all the updates to the website since it first went live three months ago. 

Christmas is De-fluffed

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Pupils from Auchinraith listening intently

After months of preparations our first "Bubblegum and Fluff" Christmas event took place today with P6 pupils from Auchinraith Primary coming to St Andrew's for a morning to learn more about the Christmas story, to de-fluff the story from the tinsel and trees. Just about everything worked well, though we are going to tweak things a little for Friday's event at the Baptist Church with High Blantyre Primary pupils to make things flow a bit better, but on the whole we were very pleased with how this went.

Star of Blantyre?

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Conjunction between Moon, Jupiter and Venus

Coming home from taking the girls to piano lessons this evening we saw low in the night sky the conjunction between Jupiter and Venus as the moon passed by too, creating an occultation of Venus (thanks to Iain C for that technical term - I just noticed he took a snap tonight too - great minds!). It is slightly misty (hence the glow around the moon), and the mist means you can't see any other stars, but these three heavenly bodies were clear as anything. The picture was taken from the top bedroom looking out over the roofs and trees on the other side of Glasgow Road.

One of the suggestions for the Star of Bethlehem is that it was a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn that we know took place in 7 BC. Are we witnessing the Star of Blantyre tonight?

You can learn more about the astronomical options for "the Star" in this paper written by my step-father, Robin, who taught astronomy for many years at Glasgow University. 

Puppet Shoulder

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Shoulder Aches

If tennis players can have "tennis elbow" and Wii fanatics "Wiiitus", then tonight I am suffering from "puppet shoulder". David Burt and I went down to the hall to set up the puppet stage for the first "Bubblegum and Fluff" event for primary children tomorrow morning. We had a run through of the puppet sketch and song we are going to be doing, and afterwards we were aching! You just don't realise until you try it how incredibly straining it is to hold your hand straight up and operate a puppet for three minutes, let alone the seven minutes we need!

I also realised the importance of stretching before we do the sketch tomorrow. However, it should be fun, if we can make it! 

Songs of Praise

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Songs of Praise

I've finally finished the multimedia presentation for tomorrow's (today's!) service. This is one of those services that everyone thinks is a day off for the minister as there is no sermon... little do folks realise that it has taken hours to prepare. We're doing a "Songs of Praise" service with all the songs we're going to sing (all 17 of them!!) suggested by church members. 

To make it more interesting, however, I visited a number of folks during the week with video recorder in hand and asked them why they had picked the song they chose. The answers are varied and fascinating and I hope people learn something from hearing about how certain songs and hymns have meaning to others. The time-consuming bit is editing everything together so it all works seamlessly during worship, I hope!

It is a good range of hymns too from ancient to modern and encompassing many different styles. The favourite was a song by Mike Burn called Healing River, which has become a very popular hymn in St Andrew's over the last five years or so. Technology willing, you'll be able to join us through the podcast in due course.

Vegetarian Masterpieces?

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The Last Supper in Vegetables

It might look familiar until you take a closer look and realise that da Vinci's Last Supper is here recreated with vegetables! It is the work of a Chinese artist Ju Duoqi who was interviewed by The Guardian recently. In the artist's words:

In the summer of ’06, I bought several kilograms of peas, and sat there quietly for two days peeling them, before stringing them on a wire and turning them into a skirt, a top, a headdress and a magic wand. I used a remote control to take a photo of myself in them, and named it Pea Beauty Pageant. That was my first work of vegetable art.


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1. to compose or draft (an edict, proclamation, etc.).
2. to put (a literary work, etc.) into appropriate form for publication; edit.

These are the definitions given in the Collins English Dictionary for "redact". If you have ever seen an official document from government that has been redacted you will know it because usually words, sentences or paragraphs are blacked out as unsuitable for common consumption for security reasons.

When do we remove the kid gloves?

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God creates Adam (Michelangelo)

One of the great challenges for churches that aspire to encourage young people into faith, is, in my own mind, making what is the greatest resource for our understanding of God, Jesus and faith, i.e. the Bible, a relevant book in their lives without resorting to literalism. 

Below you will find a letter that I submitted to the Minister's Forum which was delivered in the post today exploring this issue. Originally I wrote this not long after returning from the USA in the summer, and then forgot to send it in, and so was able to add a wee note about what we have been doing locally with respect to "Bubblegum and Fluff", the Christmas event for P6 children.

Bravo Botox?

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Piano playing

I've always thought Botox, or botulinum toxin to give it its full name, was a bit of a joke - something for people with too much money to inject into their foreheads to remove the worry lines! I'm rethinking that.

I'm coming to the end of an amazing book I've been reading on and off for the past month or so Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks. If you have seen the film "Awakenings" which tells the story of a whole group of long-term patients in a seeming trance-like state (some for decades) who are treated with the drug L-Dopa and suddenly "come to life" before tragically regressing once again into their trance-like state, the doctor in that film is a depiction of Oliver Sacks (played by actor Robin Williams) when he was a relatively young doctor back in the 1960s.

Congratulations to Scott!

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Queen's Cross on Christmas Day 1985

Well now, I don't know if Scott did this on purpose as I had just posted a link to Brechin Cathedral in my last post... but a huge congratulations to Scott Rennie on having received a call to Queen's Cross Parish Church in Aberdeen. I'm so pleased. He texted this morning to say he was following a snow plough up the road to preach at Queen's Cross, so this photo is very appropriate! It was taken on Christmas Day way back in 1985. The church is in the background. 

The Aberdeen boy returns home so he can cheer those old Dons along! 


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Peter Johnston & Scott Rennie

Why Liberal Churches Are Growing

The word theocon has been used in the USA to describe those of an extreme conservative theology as they impact on public policy. I'm claiming the word for a different use! In business you often talk of telecons as short hand for a telephone conversation.

With my friend and colleague Scott Rennie, of Brechin Cathedral, we are experimenting with a God conversation, or theocon, about a book we are currently reading by way of helping us think through issues affecting faith and the church. Scott invited me to discuss with him the book Why Liberal Churches Are Growing (eds. Martyn Percy and Ian Markham, London: T&T Clark, 2006) which I also had on my bookshelf. I thought you might like to listen in on our conversation. 

In this conversation we cover Part One of four parts in the book. This section is titled "Defining Themes" and includes the following chapters:

  1. Community Organising as Lived Faith (Patrick T Gray)
  2. Conversational Church Growth (John B Thomson)
  3. Reorganising the Chairs on the Titanic: A Case of a Change in Priorities (Pete Ward)


Evangelism: how not to do it?

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Evangelistic Van

Mike Peatman's blog led me to an interesting article by a guy calling himself Joe the Peacock! With a name like that you just have to have a look, don't you? (For American readers, it sure beats Joe the Plumber...)

The article is a stimulating critique of what equates to evangelism in many quarters. I confess I have always had a natural reticence for anything that smacks of sandwich-boards on Oxford Street: I remember one old guy who used to plough back and forth all day with a miserable expression on his face and proclaiming "Repent, repent, for the end is nigh!"

While there was a part of me that admired his perseverance in the face of collosal indifference, there was also a part of me that screamed that it was just a useless waste of time more designed to make him feel better and that he was "doing something" than actually helping people's lives get better. 

Bubblegum and Fluff recruits Auchinraith Primary

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Following up on my previous post about a new song for the primary school "Bubblegum and Fluff" event that is getting ever nearer (the first date is 1 December), I had a lot of fun this morning recording the P1-P3s during our assembly at Auchinraith Primary School as they sang the chorus for the song.

You can download the mp3 file and listen to them here. We've decided to use the song with the puppets leading during the actual event.

Mozart like you've never heard him

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Mozart's work sounds good no matter how it is created. But I am sure that not even the great innovater himself would have expected his Symphony Nr 40 (KV550) to be performed like this.