Peter's Blog

Flabby Kirks

Written by Peter Johnston on .

An interesting article from Michael Gove in The Scotsman yesterday.

I don't agree with him on his basic point about the CofS, as there are many deeply principled and inspiring leaders within the Kirk - it is just that our structure does not allow for a single spokesperson in the way that the Catholic Church and C of E do with their bishops.

It is something that keeps bubbling away in thoughts about how the Kirk best communicate with the nation at large and there is no simple answer. A quirk of presbyterianism.

Congrats Lewis!

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Lewis Hamilton Wins Championship

As a passionate follower of F1, I have to say the last race of the 2008 season today in Brazil was a cracker! Edge of the seat stuff. Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton, the youngest ever F1 champion and the first Brit since Damon Hill in 1996.

Five year old Andrew was thrilled that Fellipe Massa won the race though, as a budding Ferrari fan... he doesn't get that from me!

Aye we can!

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Scotland for Obama Sign

Today we trekked over to Edinburgh to show our support at the Scotland for Obama rally. As we walked up the Mound from Castle Terrace we got lots of cheers and smiles with our home made banner!

Sadly, the only person in our household who can actually vote in the US elections was at work! Nonetheless, we did our bit on a cold but bright day and it was good to meet with lots of other folks from both Scotland and the USA who are as passionate about this election as we are. 

An Obama Rally in Scotland!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

On a visit to a church member a week or so ago I heard that some years ago (quite a few!) she had been told by her teacher that "when America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold". And hence why all these years later there is still so much interest in US politics even over here in Scotland.

Believe it or not, there is going to be a "Scotland for Obama" rally tomorrow, Saturday, at Hunter Square off the High Street in Edinburgh at 12 noon.


Written by Peter Johnston on .

One of the great appeals of a new wave of politicians like Barack Obama is their awareness of and ability to interconnect with people young and old, across the globe. This cross-cultural awareness breeds the kind of spontaneous expression of support you see above from MC Yogi - a great piece. 

Obama '08 - Vote For Hope from MC Yogi on Vimeo.


Rethinking Christmas

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Only 57 shopping days left until Christmas! How are you going to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus?

I found this video on the Something Beautiful website, linked to via Stewart Cutler.

Update: A recent donation St Andrew's gave was to WaterAid. Click here for more information about their work.

Praising Secularism

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Where Church and State Meet

It may seem an odd tack for a Christian minister to take, but I sincerely mean it that we have a lot to be thankful for in secularism within the UK. In England the Church of England is still the national state church. While sometimes we in the Church of Scotland style ourselves as the National Church, it is not the case any longer as the CofS has been long since disestablished.

Many of us hanker after a simpler time when everyone understood we lived in a Christian country, and worry about the rising tide of secularism: seeing in it a threat to long held values.

Personally, I don't worry about that, and rather see secularism as providing space for churches and faith communities to think creatively about how to live out our beliefs in a prophetic and active way. 

Gathered round the hearth... no more

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Roaring Fire

The house I grew up in down in Kent did not have central heating until I was in my late teens (and even then it wasn't for the whole house - the bedrooms still had no heating), but for most of my childhood the house was heated by a few ineffectual storage heaters that were only warm in the morning, by the evening they had cooled down, and open coal fires.

Whereas today the chairs in most living rooms now have the TV as the focal point, we had the chairs still centred around the fire, and we'd move one of them to watch TV! Gathered around that roaring coal fire with the heat warming your feet is a fond memory and one we could do with right now.

We've been having on and off problems with the boiler all summer as it kept failing to fire up. You would only realise it had done this when you got into the shower and were reduced to a squealing wreck as cold water gushed forth. 


Written by Peter Johnston on .

Sunday Times columnist, Atlantic writer, and long-term blogger Andrew Sullivan has a superb essay on blogging, Why I Blog, in this month's copy of The Atlantic. If you are new to blogs and want to know more, it's a great way to learn more about this new and rapidly growing means of online conversation.

Will your anchor hold?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The Boys Brigade celebrated their 125th Anniversary this past weekend and our local company (2nd Blantyre) joined the other companies of the Hamilton and District battalion for a march in Hamilton braving the truly atrocious weather on Sunday afternoon.

The Boys Brigade slogan is "Sure and Steadfast" which along with the anchor symbol and frequently sung hymn "Will your anchor hold" emphasises the qualities that the organisation wants to encourage in its boys. We find these same qualities of trustworthiness and stability in God, who stays with us no matter what the storms of life throw at us.

That being said, I'm still not sure I would want to be a lighthouse keeper in the middle of a storm...

(Hat tip to iTalker for the video)

Always the violence...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

With reference to the previous posts about the Myth of Redemptive Violence and Jesus and Violence, I read a speech from John McCain, a US presidential candidate, given today which ended with these words:

I'm an American. And I choose to fight. Don't give up hope. Be strong. Have courage. And fight. Fight for a new direction for our country. Fight for what's right for America.

Fight to clean up the mess of corruption, infighting and selfishness in Washington.

Fight to get our economy out of the ditch and back in the lead.

Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children's future.

Fight for justice and opportunity for all.

Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.

Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history. Now, let's go win this election and get this country moving again.

I agree with him that we should be striving to do better on most of these points, but isn't it interesting that the image he uses is of fighting? Always the violence, always the fighting. Thank God for Jesus showing us a different way.


Stargazing over Bothwell Castle

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Star trails over Bothwell Castle

It was a clear night tonight after what feels like weeks of rain. I took the opportunity after putting the kids to bed to trek over to Bothwell Castle on the other side of the Clyde River to enjoy the stars. I even saw a shooting star.

The picture above of me sitting on the ruins of Bothwell Castle was taken as the world turned under a starlit night. You can click on the image above to see a larger version, or click here.

For the technically minded, the image is the result of eighty-eight 30 second exposures overlaid to create the startrails. No prizes for pointing out which star is the Pole/North Star!


Popeye, Bluto and Marduk

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The first ever episode of Popeye from 1933. Watch it and then read Walter Wink's superb article on The Myth of Redemptive Violence from which he says:

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. ...

At the end of the article Wink summarises:

Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in the pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, an addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end.

My own take here.

Jesus and Violence

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Jesus in the Ring

Tonight in our discussion group Living the Questions we will be thinking about "The Myth of Redemptive Violence". I'm intrigued to see where the discussion takes us tonight as this issue is one that is of particular interest to me.

Last year as part of a long journey through Matthew's gospel I preached a sermon on exactly this theme that stirred a lot of conversation among members in the congregation - for the positive - as we looked more deeply at what it means when we say that God sent his Son to die for us.

After that sermon, I wrote a letter to the Minister's Forum (a newsletter for Ministers) on the same theme which you will find reproduced below. It was printed around Easter 2007. It too caused something of a stir, this time not all positive, it has to be said! However, I stand by what I wrote and think it is very important. 

Easter is coming and what to preach? Christ crucified, or Christ risen? I remember as a student being overcome by the despair in a colleague’s Easter prayer, effused as it was with what I felt to be grotesque imagery of the crucifixion. I prayed in response with thanks for the glory of the third day.

There is a curious difference for me between those whose natural empathy lies in the crucifixion and those who relate more to the resurrection. Just a curiosity? The more I reflect on it, the more I wonder if in this difference of emphasis there may be unintended consequences.

The widespread acceptance today of a penal substitutionary theory of atonement, with its dependence on the death of Christ, certainly has implications for our witness as followers of Christ. I am well aware that this model of atonement has a deep resonance with many, although I admit it is not a resonance I have ever felt myself. But it inevitably raises questions: In its reliance on a retributive system of justice, what room is left for the grace of God? In its dependence on violence to satisfy God’s wrath, what space for forgiveness? In its focus on the cross of Christ, why did God bother with resurrection? The work was done on the cross, not three days later.

The model is so well-known to us that we perhaps forget it is a later addition to our theological panoply shaped into its current form by Anselm in the eleventh century and based on his understanding of feudal law and the system of honour that existed at that time. It was in contrast to the view of Christ’s death and resurrection that existed prior to Christendom when Jesus’ followers were a persecuted and threatened community. Then, his life, death and resurrection were an affirmation that God would overcome all that oppresses: the evil structures and tyrants that threatened faith and discipleship.

Why might this be important today? It does not take long listening to George W Bush or our own leader speaking about terror, often with overtly religious language, to realise that the same retributive justice is the dominant theme. In Bob Woodward’s latest book on life in the White House, we read that Bush always wanted to know the numbers after a battle in Iraq… how many did we kill? Justice is served by spilling blood.

When our whole understanding of our Lord’s death is wrapped up in a system of retributive justice – in honour having to be regained by innocent death or in economic debts of sin being repaid to balance a heavenly chitty – then how do we take seriously Jesus’ life itself?

How do we reconcile Jesus’ teaching about pacifism, about forgiveness, about loving our enemies? Personally, I don’t believe we can. Hence Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ spent almost no time reflecting on Jesus’ life. In Gibson’s film we have no idea why Jesus had to suffer so.

Why did he? Because he was a threat to the powers that be, just as Martin Luther King Jr was murdered because he was a threat to the segregationists in 60s America, and just as Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down because he was a threat to the government of El Salvador.

Perhaps Jesus’ death was inevitable, as were the deaths of King and Romero, but for me it is not because of divine retributive justice “tantamount to child abuse”, as Steve Chalke puts it. It is because Jesus brought good news to the poor, to the imprisoned and oppressed – and those in power were threatened by the thought of local insurrection.

Did Jesus have to die? I do not believe so. Yet I do believe his death was the inevitable result of my sin, of our collective sin, of the fear of people, I shudder to say “like me”, who one moment shout “hosanna” and next moment “crucify”.

In a wonderful book, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, W.H. Vanstone says, “The Word of God dwelt among us (full of grace and truth). In Him the truth of God is disclosed with graciousness. He discloses to us, on Good Friday and Easter Day, both the tragic and the triumphant possibilities of the love of God. But the disclosure is made graciously; Easter comes after Good Friday: tragedy is (swallowed up) in triumph: and [humanity], having seen the tragic possibility, is called away to devote [its] faith, hope and service to the possibility of love’s triumph.”

As we discuss replacing one set of weapons of mass destruction, Trident, with newer more potent weapons, as the results of political folly continue to fill our TV screens with bloodshed, perhaps this Easter we can have the courage to trust in love’s triumph. As our Statement of Faith, 1992, puts it, “By his death on the cross and by his resurrection, he has triumphed over evil.”

Too true

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Duty Calls

I think for both Carolyn and me this cartoon is rather too close to the bone. There are just so many people out there on the internet with strange views who need to be challenged... Wink

Solving the economic crisis

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones solve the economic crisis. Enjoy!


Do crystals grow on trees?

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Crystal Tree

Last Christmas the kids got a crystal growing set that we finally got round to using this evening. I think they are going to be very excited in the morning when they see that their crystal tree has grown overnight! 


Taxing times

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Tax return time

Are you rushing to complete your tax return for the end of October? Unlike the poor chap above I feel pretty virtuous having completed mine and submitted it online back in the summer!

I've read quite a lot of chatter back and forth in other blogs and journals both here in the UK and in the USA about taxation recently: whether it is fair, whether we should be able to keep our money and spend it the way we want, whether it is right to redistribute wealth amongst the population and so on.

With many connections in the USA, we hear quite a few voices giving a hard line on taxation: that it should be reduced to an absolute minimum and that a flat rate should apply. When questioned about what then would happen to the social programmes that help people with little income, the usual response is that churches would step in to fulfil this need. 

Riffing on Rights

Written by Peter Johnston on .

On 10 December 2008 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be sixty years old.

With supposedly civilised nations such as our own complicit iin the use of torture, of the removal of rights of privacy and the erosion of centuries old rights such as habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial, maybe we need to be reminded of what the United Nations agreed on that historic day in 1948 after the tumult of a World War.

Enjoy the very cool animation.

When the new is definitely better than the old

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I was at another training day today for the Ministries Council. It was the second part of training on the enquiry process for accompanying people who feel a call to the ministry. I have to say that the current system is far, far better than it was when I went to "selection school", after all they let me through!

Rather than a concentrated two days, the process is now spread over many months and includes practical experience, plenty of time for reflection and observation, feedback and also journalling. This latter is interesting to me as a budding blogger.

Enquirers must keep a private journal of their experiences week by week, and reflect back on it at regular intervals both to think about what they have achieved and to see where they have come spiritually on their journey. It seems to be a very helpful tool.

As we talked about journalling today the similarities to writing a blog were clear, though inevitably when you are writing for an online readership you are a little more circumspect about what to include than you would be if writing just for yourself! Nonetheless, it is an interesting development and one which I am glad the Ministries Council have adopted.

[Note the image above is borrowed... I like it but wish the point of focus was on the nib - that's what I would have done!]