11 January 2022

I had a treat on Sunday. A family in the congregation had spent a holiday in Blackpool. I had shared my own memory of being there as a child and seeing the rock making. In response, the children brought me back a gift of some fruity Blackpool Rock.

I must have been about eight when we were there visiting my uncle and aunt. They were so newly married, they didn’t have any family. They took us to the shows at Blackpool. I remember the Noah’s Ark and the rock making. Somehow, it was a highlight.

In appreciation of the gift. I wrote the children a poem picking up on my childhood memory stimulated by their holiday adventure. Memory is important in the Sacrament bringing to mind the sacrifice of Christ in bread and wine. The stimulation of our own memories brings to mind the gifts of love from family and friends plotting every part of our life.

 

I remember the rock in Blackpool
It was made in a funny machine
By a man with a smile and a nose
They were the biggest I had ever seen!

 

The rock was all stripey with colour
Like a garden come into flower
Or  a rainbow arching up above
A sign of hope and  God’s love.

Ever since then I have loved it
The rock for  a child of  eight
Sixty years later there’s more I see
Happy eating from J, A and E!

 

 

 

10 January 2022

Mary-Catherine made the  Sugar Bunny. They are usually  made out of the colours of sugar almonds. This one is white. She has lovely big ears matching her dress. She also has a little purple  jacket with yellow trim. The Sugar Bunny walks very easily and is  called Claribel.

Mary-Catherine didn’t make it for a grandchild. We don’t have any at the moment. Nor did she  make it for a craft fayre. There isn’t one on the calendar. So why did she make it? She made it because the Sugar Bunny was such a delight!

When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan by his cousin, John, he heard a voice from heaven saying,  ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ Or in whom my soul delights. At his baptism, God told Jesus how much he loved him. It marked the start of his extraordinary ministry.

And, of course,  he says this to everyone who is baptised in the kirk. ‘You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ We don’t have to do anything to be loved by God. He loves us because he made us and he made us because we  are a delight to him just like the Sugar Bunny!

9 January 2022

How are your New Year energy levels? One medical magazine suggested four things to boost them. Get active! Ten minutes brisk walking can boost energy levels for up to two hours! Get a hit of daylight! Or buy our vitamin D tablets!

Spend time with positive people! People who make us  laugh or feel good about life or encourage us are bound to help us put things into a sunnier perspective and energise us for the day ahead.

The fourth suggestion was the most interesting. ‘Do a good deed!’ it suggested and went on to explain that research shows that participating in voluntary work boosts energy levels by enhancing six aspects of well-being.

Can you guess what they are – happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life,  physical health and mood. This is quite a substantial list and confirms once again that being  a participant in the life of the kirk is good for your health.

St. Paul talks about everyone in the kirk being given a gift by the Holy Spirit for the common good. This is their ministry. At the root of this word is service, which covers what the medical magazine described as ‘doing a good deed’. So the long and the short of it is, ‘Keep coming to the kirk!’

8 January 2022

On 5 January 1922, Sir Ernest Shackleton died. A hundred years later, we still marvel at his glorious failure to cross Antarctica and his magnificent journey to save his crew. The quality of his leadership was spotted  by NASA. In preparing astronauts for Mars, they decided to analyse Shackleton’s  skills and  highlighted several things.

He was self-confident without being arrogant. He was flexible and able to change his mind. He was able to judge how men would get on when their lives were under stress or in extreme danger. He had effective ways of maintaining harmony among his men living in confined and perilous conditions.

Frank Worsley, who captained the Endurance, wrote about it in his breath-taking account of ‘Shackleton’s Boat Journey’. He wrote about Shackleton’s caution. Sometimes he thought him too cautious. And he wrote of his self-sacrifice taking over the watch to give men more sleep.

But the most revealing comment which Worsley made about his leadership comes at the end of his account of this historic boat journey. He believed that some men would have succumbed to the strain of it all if it hadn’t been for Shackleton.

‘So great was his care of his people, that, to rough men, it seemed at times to have a touch of woman about it, even to the verge of fussiness.’ he writes. ‘At all times he inspired men with a  feeling, often illogical, that, even if things got worse, he would devise some means of easing their hardships.’

‘A touch of woman’ what did he mean? Describing such a great hero in these terms seems surprising. ‘Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore?’ asks the Lord. ‘Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you … I have written your name on the palms of my hands.’ Doesn’t God’s leadership have a touch of woman about it too?

7 January 2022

On Wednesday, Pope Francis touched on a sensitive issue at his weekly audience in the Vatican. He was talking about couples who opted to have pets instead of children. He  described them as selfish and said that pet keeping was ‘a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity’.

There is concern in the developed world about the falling birth rate. This is evident in Scotland where the fall is much more dramatic than in other parts of the United Kingdom. An aging population is going to get into difficulties if there aren’t enough younger people to generate the country’s wealth and support its NHS.

Traditionally, Roman Catholics have been encouraged to have as many children as they can and to forego the use of contraception to control the size of a family. This has had some unwanted consequences not least in families where family size has drawn children into poverty and  led parents into addiction and mental illness.

Behind the desire for couples to have children rather than pets is the theological understanding that every act of sexual intercourse should be focused on procreation. This is unsatisfactory. Some couples are unable to have children. Some couples would be unwise to have them. Some couples opt not to have them to save the planet.

In our ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’, the meaning of marriage is unpacked in this way, ‘Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue; and of the church with an holy seed; and for prevention of uncleanness.’

It is interesting to note that the primary purpose of marriage is mutual help – friendship, companionship, support, encouragement, love. It is not for the procreation of children per se. It is part of it – and the sacrifices of parenthood reap rich rewards in the development of young people, growing up to enrich the life of the world.

Caring for animals is important too especially those which have been abandoned. Whilst nurturing an animal is much less demanding than nurturing a child, it does bring its rewards  in the discovery of an unconditional love and closer ties with the animal kingdom.

When we got married, we both agreed to have a family. We never thought about the sacrifices which were required. We only found out about them later on. Participating in the creative activity of God in bringing a life to birth was an unimaginable privilege and the joy of seeing a life developing continues to enrich us beyond measure!

6 January 2022

We watched ‘The Tourist’ with Jamie Dornan as the Man with amnesia  and Danielle Macdonald as the traffic cop. The series is by turns thrilling and funny but it has an ambiguous ending which satisfies and frustrates. The fallout isn’t good publicity for the Australian police force and traffic department!

In a recent interview, Dornan talked about being trapped in Australia filming ‘The Trourist’ when his father died. He was a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist who succumbed to Covid 19 aged 73. Dornan expressed disappointment that his dad didn’t live to see his latest film ‘Belfast’.

He plays the father to Kenneth Branagh in a film about his childhood in Belfast. Both came from this troubled city. ‘Sectarianism is real.’ said Dornan in a recent interview with Stephen Armstrong. ‘There’s not an actual war happening any more – and that’s huge – but the problems haven’t gone away. It’s important to understand it.’

There is a family connection with the film, ‘Belfast’. His dad met the actor Kenneth Branagh whose childhood is being retold. For this reason, Dornan is hurt that his dad will not see the film. He takes comfort that his dad knew he was filming it.

Then he went on to pay this handsome tribute to his father. ‘Some people go their whole lives without being told they’ve made their parents proud. My dad told me every day.’  The affirmation of parents cannot be underestimated. It gives children two important gifts.

Firstly, it  puts a value upon the child  and nurtures acceptance within them.  Secondly, it gives the child confidence not only in their own abilities but in their ability to navigate their own unique path through the world. Those who are nurtured well at home are paradoxically free to travel to the ends of the earth.

5 January 2022

Yesterday we walked up Pipeland Hill and along the old railwayline which took us on a journey parallel to a small river. It was bitterly cold with frost on the grass, ice on the path and a snell wind to boot. Despite it all or because of it all, the walk was invigorating.

No berries on the hawthorn but some rosehips on the dog-rose. The wind had silenced the blackbird but the water was flowing energetically. The sun was shining gloriously, breaking through the bare branches of the wintry trees. Some had been felled by recent storms and required wise navigation. There was a smell of deep decay.

Home by the farm and horses in the field wearing their winter coats, distracted momentarily from munching the grass. They remained silent but watchful, curious but detached. They had a life to live which hardly intersected with ours. We share the planet and long for Muir’s ‘long-lost companionship’.

We met a man with a camera. The sky above the sea was full of pink and purple hues. Three ships could be seen by him but not by us among them a dredger and an oil tanker. He proved to be a fountain of knowledge about the surrounding countryside and he shared it freely with us without our asking.

‘Where have you been?’ he asked. ‘Do you know there are tics and mosquitoes there? I experienced them in the autumn.’ I hadn’t thought about them and we had yet to experience them. ‘You have so much knowledge of the world.’ I declared. ‘We have little and carry no worry!’ He continued. ‘I like to observe my environment.’  And I admired him for it.  This leads to greater wisdom.

But as we continued  downhill, I couldn’t help thinking that our ignorance had borne fruit in a wonderful peace of mind and had left our confidence undented. I was glad the tics and the mosquitoes belonged to his world and the horses, the energetic water tumbling downstream, the dank smell of nature’s decay  and the communion we enjoyed with winter’s austerity to ours!

4 January 2022

The most startling consequence of Covid 19 for the Church is the dramatic drop in attendance at public worship. At first, I thought we would gradually return to how things were before. But when attendances didn’t rise dramatically after the offer of double injections, I realised the fall was permanent.

Two surveys have confirmed this. The first was a survey conducted among Roman Catholics in Britain and Ireland. 53% of pre-Covid Mass-goers in Ireland have not yet returned. 23% of the respondents said they had no intention of returning to Mass. The wearing of masks and a loss of  faith are some of the reasons.

In a second survey of all Christians across the UK, more than two-thirds have said that they won’t return to worship with the same regularity as before Covid 19. Less than a third believed that the life of the Church would return to what it was like before the pandemic and two-thirds agreed that online worship was here to stay.

It is the worst of times for this to happen. In the Kirk, we are all undergoing reviews in anticipation of major readjustment in the light of falling membership, falling vocations to the ministry and falling income. As far as I can see, congregational incomes have dropped by some 20%.

Our weaknesses have been laid bare with enormous clarity. Does this mean that it will be easier for Presbyteries to construct their Presbytery Plans? If so, the worst of times may even become the best of times. But will decisions be made with regret that a truer picture of congregational life eluded us?

Congregations without a minister are especially vulnerable. The sisting of all vacancy procedure at the end of the year seems harsh. What I would like to know is whether Covid 19 has accelerated the decline and revealed our unacknowledged  trajectory  or whether it caused much greater  damage and transported us into an irrecoverable position?

3 January 2022

In our world, there are so many harsh words spoken none more so in the most contemporary of debates about transgender people and, in particular, trans women and the use of women only spaces.

One of the casualties of this debate is JK Rowling who has declared in favour of those women who want to protect dedicated spaces and exclude trans women from accessing  them. Her younger  fans have turned against her.

In the fabric of the universe, the Word has revealed something very significant about gender which raises the debate onto a completely different plane. ‘In Christ, there is no male nor female …’

This was the wisdom which declared in favour of women’s ordination because it showed us that in Christ gender is not something which should  differentiate for in Christ it doesn’t make sense.  We are all equally loved as children of God.

This was revealed in the Creation for God declared that men and women were both made in his image and likeness, both inherently sacred. What matters is who we are as persons made in the image of God.

2 January 2022

Last Sunday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu died. When he was a boy living in poverty with a mother who was a local washer-woman, he had a very profound experience.

A white priest dressed in his cassock and biretta walked down their street. When the white priest passed his black mother, he doffed his biretta as one would do when passing any woman.

But this was a black woman in a South African landscape bedevilled by racial discrimination! The boy never forgot the priest’s respect for his mother and the honour he paid her as a child of God.

He grew up to be a priest and ultimately Archbishop of Cape Town playing a crucial role in dismantling apartheid and earning the Nobel Peace Prize for his labours.

The white priest was the missionary, Anglican priest, Trevor Huddleston who became an Archbishop too. In his very being he embodied the living Word, full of grace and truth,  embedded into the very fabric of space-time forever!