Saturday, 31 March 2007

The power of the net

Following on from my recent confession about Krispy Kreme donuts, a guy from the church happened to be in Birmingham where there is a UK Franchise. This wonderful man brought a superb selection of Krispy Kremes, enough to satisfy any craving, all the way north of the border into Scotland. Stuart - you are a star. You will be well rewarded in heaven! Fortunately it also happened to be the day of the church bunny hunt, so I can walk off all those extra calories hunting for bunnies.
For me, Stuart's was a pretty big act of kindness. But in every day there are countless small acts of kindness that folk perform for us and many loving things we can do each other. And, suddenly, the world looks completely different.
They say be careful what you wish for - I'll be careful what I blog about!

Friday, 30 March 2007

Do trees scream?

The Presence of Trees
by Michael S. Glaser
I have always felt the living presence of trees
the forest that calls to me as deeply as I breathe,
as though the woods were marrow of my bone

as though I myself were tree,
a breathing, reaching arc of the larger canopy
beside a brook bubbling to foam

like the one deep in these woods,
that calls, that whispers home

The forest just along the road from us has just been harvested. Its the first time I have witnessed this and I found it really disturbing. In around 3 days the whole forest was cleared. The explanation given was that the trees had reached the end of their 30 year life span and had to be removed. The trees left standing are ones that have grown up naturally and the forest apparently will be replanted. But, meantime, the landscape seems desecrated - although folk living in the houses behind the forest will, for the first time ever, have a view of the river and the hills beyond.

Folk view things in many different ways and a blessing for some is a bane for others. The reminder that whole landscapes can be dramatically changed for ever in moments is of course a reality that many folk live with and experience every day.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Techno processing?

I learned a new term today: "defragmentation".
I was leading a school assembly, showing a couple of video clips and my laptop was being really slow. A colleague commented that I needed to defragment regularly. Well, I'm familiar with dermabrasion, exfoliation, de-epillation but defragmentation was a new one on me. I discovered it means something like bringing files together so that the processor is not having to search all over the disk for bits - well at least, that's how I understood it with my woman's "need to know" brain.
I wondered if some of what we humans need to do when we're processing - with the help of water or not - is in fact the opposite of defragmentation. I suppose that would be fragmentation. But, if we could separate all those things that have become lumped together in our minds, think how freeing that would be, how differently and freshly we'd be able to look at things. No stereotyping, no presumptions. But clear, uncluttered views. I can leave the computer on overnight while it defragments. I wonder if my mind could fragment while I slumber. Oh well, its just a thought for processing...

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Processing without the frizz

I learned today that one of the best ways to process things in our minds is while swimming. Time constraints make that a bit difficult for me right now. Not so much the swimming time but the time taken to dry and straighten hair! But then I learned that it is more the presence of water that's important. So walking by water, as I do every morning, is just as effective. (So, too is a long shower or soak in the bath). I certainly use my morning wander to sift things in my head. And, around this part of the world, there is no shortage of water or of beautiful water side places to walk. I should be good, then at processing stuff. Perhaps I just need more practice. And all the beautiful distractions found around the water's edge are, I'm sure, all useful processing tools. Reflecting on the sheer wonder and majesty of creation lends an edge and a useful perspective to all of life.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Risking welcome - Welcoming risk

This welcome sign is built into the entrance pillars of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A good sentiment but difficult to live with. Often the ideal rather than reality. Many churches struggle to be truly welcoming places because welcome involves risk. It involves acceptance of those who are "not like us". It involves recognition of other ways and other standards that we may well find alien. Above all it involves acknowledging that we may in fact be the aliens. Whatever, we are all God's children, accepted, loved and welcomed. To be as extravagant as the God we serve demands that we take the risk and discover what it really means to welcome all God's children - especially those who seem like strangers.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Krispy Kremes and Cracker Barrel

I love Krispy Kreme donuts. I just haven't found an equivalent in the UK. Any journey is bearable if it begins with a visit to a drive thru' Krispy Kreme outlet. A 10 hour drive from South Carolina to Indiana was only bearable thanks to a supply of Krispy Kremes and regular stops at Cracker Barrels for savoury stodge. Food is such a comfort at times. My state of health can be assessed by my particular food intake. Mostly, when I'm under pressure, the high carb, high sugar intake prevails - quick doses of reassuring energy. But, rake that pressure up a notch and the whole idea of food becomes abhorrent. The chilled out me eats sensibly and makes healthy choices. Right now, I must be somewhere in between, craving Krispy Kremes - but eating Tuna salad instead. Some of our friends from the States will be visiting with us over Easter. I hope they can find some vacuum packed KKs and satisfy this crazy Scots woman's longing. But then again, the company of good friends means I'll be well chilled any way. Can't wait!

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Hebridean storm

You'd think that on an island, you'd see weather approaching for miles. Yet this storm crept up on us, caught us unawares on the beach and, within minutes we were drenched as the clouds unleashed their fury. The beauty of isolation means that there is nowhere to shelter. We stood in the middle of this road, soaked to the skin, in fits of laughter. What else was there to do?
Sometimes we're blissfully unaware of trouble looming. Until it overtakes us. Even when there are signals all around we can fail to pick up on those. The truth is, we can't keep on running. And isolation leaves us exposed. When we can't run and we can't hide, its good to at least be able to share. Especially when laughter isn't an option.

Friday, 23 March 2007


As I walked along the shore today, I saw a springer spaniel swimming very happily in the water. She looked so content and the water looked so inviting that I wanted to join her. But then I thought of a thousand reasons why I simply couldn't do that. How inhibiting it is to try to be a responsible adult at times!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007


I read an article this week on using imagination in worship. Now there's a concept very alien and, I fear, very unwelcome for many folk. Worship is that passive, safe option that we plug into on Sunday mornings. A few years ago, for a special anniversary, we held an open air communion service. What a new experience of worship, to be immersed in the sounds and smells normally left outside. Passers by could see what we normally get up to hidden away in our sanctuary. That seemed like imaginative worship. But so too is sharing God conversations over bacon rolls or experiencing God in candles and Taize chants. Even a lively discussion in the village pub. There's room and, I would contend, a need for all of these complementary ways of worship, using not just imagination but perhaps even innovation. If you weren't alarmed beforehand, you should be now. Imagination and innovation - in the church? Things really are getting out of control. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Here we go again...

I saw someone cutting grass today. And so begins another season of relentless growth and the often futile attempt to keep lawns under control. Last year, we had help with our front lawn but we decided just to abandon all attempts to keep on top of the jungle we have in our back yard. Our seven year old daughter almost got lost in the under- and over- growth. We will probably do the same this year. We like the wild look and, especially at this time of year after its winter rest, the back yard looks "interesting". Neglecting the mowing allowed us to spend some summer evenings together enjoying activities other than gardening. That seems more important than fighting the forces of nature. How's that for an elaborate excuse?

Monday, 19 March 2007

Blessed dreams

Do you have a place in mind for those times you just need to escape? Mine is the beautiful Island of Tiree. A remote, idyllic island off the west coast of Scotland - one of the inner Hebrides. It takes the best part of the day to get there, involving a 5 hour ferry crossing but that in itself is an adventure. In the winter the boat only comes in every other day - just one of the many attractions of this wild and wonderful place. The houses you can just see in the background make up one of the bigger townships on the island - another attraction - it's sparse population. There are miles of white sandy beaches to walk in glorious solitude. Perhaps you're getting the message that I'm a bit pressed down by life at the moment. Escape, even in the form of daydreams is a luxurious coping mechanism I love to employ. But then I remind myself that even the ability to envisage such a healing place makes me extremely fortunate and I begin to get things back in perspective and appreciate what a blessed life I live. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Growing pains

"Well, they don't lick it aff the grun'". A favourite old Scots saying of a friend of mine who teaches in primary school. It means, I suppose, in normal speak, that children learn from those with whom they live. In other words, the influence comes, in particular, from the adults around them. And those annoying habits and traits they have are learned mostly at home. My children, as preacher's kids should therefore be above reproach. If only! This Mothering Sunday, I celebrate my son and daughter, especially in their outrageous moments. And, if my influence on them isn't always the best, I give thanks that, hopefully they will grow out of the less edifying things and still have enough positive influence and affirmation to carry them through whatever life may throw at them. And I give thanks for all that they teach me every day and for the ways in which I am changed for the better because of their influence on me.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Confining the fury

Another picture from Staffa, showing that wonderful rock formation and a boiling sea. The boatman told us that even on the most beautiful days, there is often a heavy swell around the island. We certainly witnessed a lot of energy in the sea on the day we visited. Yet looking further out, the sea appears calm, unruffled. The surging current is concentrated around the isalnd, an obstacle in its raging path. A rage that can be dissipated when spread over a wider area but which is released in all its fury when it is confined and restricted. Churches can often be boiling pots that confine energies and create obstruction rather than allowing the space for a less hurried, more gentle exploration of faith. Encouragement to reach beyond the limits, however can often lead to a more measured, enduring type of faith that can circumnavigate obstacles when they arise.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Glimpsing perfection

Its a particularly dreich day today, with snow forecast for the weekend, brrrr. I decided to lighten the day by looking at some holiday pictures. This one, of Fingal's Cave on the Island of Staffa was taken last Easter on a trip with some young folks from the church. The formation of this island and its famous cave is awe inspiring. To think that all that geometrical perfection is entirely natural and not man made makes me stop in my tracks. What kind of creator can achieve such marvellous perfection? A perfection that withstands the ravages of time and the elements. It was a very peaceful yet disturbing place to be. The sheer peace is what in itself disturbs. Its like a world apart, divorced from the everyday hurly burly yet bearing evidence of a time before time and of a presence before existence. The experience of being there and now, of looking back on this image, fills me with conflicting senses. A contrary encounter with nature - God's awesome creation. Can anyone glimpse such majesty and remain unmoved?

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Landing the catch

My daughter travels to school by taxi every day. She has the most jolly taxi driver you could imagine who is great with Zara in all her moods. He's a fisherman and often shares his catch with us. This summer my "boys" got into fishing, casting off the end of the pier in Tighnabruaich, our place of retreat. There's nothing quite like the taste of freshly caught mackerel cooked on the grill. The first time I was there at the catch however, disturbed me. Its one thing cooking washed and gutted fish but quite another seeing the fish struggling for its last breath. I have to confess that I got over that and went on to enjoy the supper provide by the sport. But there are many things in life to which we can't turn a blind eye. Tonight as our UK Government vote to spend billions of pounds on replacing Trident, our nuclear deterrent, we shouldn't so easily "get over it". The taste of a missed opportunity to sow seeds of peace will taint us for a long time to come. Peace-mongers are not defeated though. The struggle goes on.

More delinquency please

In our local primary school, kids, who in a few months will move on to secondary school, take a trip to Nethy Bridge, an outdoor activity centre. I get to join them for at least part of the time. In the parish, it tends to be a really busy time of year and I usually struggle deciding whether or not to go. But I always have the best time with them in that place of adventure. And when I return, the work hasn't disappeared but it seems lighter because I have taken off and had a blast. Last year, I tried skiing for the first time ever. And now, on heavy days, I like to reflect on that experience of careering down hill, totally out of control, in sheer abandon. And I remind myself that delinquency is good for the soul.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Double blessings

My morning walk today was accompanied by a very dramatic sky. Threatening storm clouds heralded the inevitable downpour but then these fragile yet radiant beams appeared to stop me in my tracks even though I was dripping wet.
I will set my bow in the sky... the sign of my covenant with the world.
Whether these Biblical words hold any sway with you or not, there is something reassuring in the appearance of a rainbow after rain, the drama of colour emerging from the greyness. And the notion of something so unpredictable, so untrackable, whose ends cannot be determined, is a timely reminder of something much greater at work, a reminder of a world that is outwith our control. Thanks be to God. Maybe I can surrender more to that power and mystery and glimpse more miracles in my reality.

Monday, 12 March 2007

A place of calm arousal

Its amazing how certain places can totally change our mood. This is my daughter admiring the view from our holiday home in Tighnabruaich in Argyll. It is a place of peace and tranquility. The apartment always seems to be full of light. Last summer there was one night when a spectacular moon kept us awake all night - not that we were complaining. Its a place I go sometimes to escape but more often than not to work. Being in such surroundings brings cleansing and healing and, occasionally, inspiration. I've not been there for some time - and that's showing in lots of the things I do. I need a top up soon.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Early Morning

Just to prove its not been wet all day - this was the view from our kitchen window this morning. He/she is one of 3 regular visitors to our garden. When we moved here five years ago, a family of deer greeted us at breakfast the first morning. Even though they're around at some point most days, we never tire of admiring their beauty and their gracefulness. We don't have anything in the garden for them to destroy. They bring their own magic.
Its a gift. We don't feed them or care for them, yet they persist in bringing us joy.Aren't there lots of things in our lives like that. They come unbidden but bring change, sometimes for the better. It would be good to be more switched on to those agents that bring welcome changes, occasional notes of joy and less ground down by the negative forces that are always around. I am convinced those good things are there. We just need to look that bit harder to see them.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Keep on dreaming...

I loved our brief visit to Chicago when I took some study leave last autumn. But just this week I discovered that an old friend was working real close to where we were. A missed opportunity to catch up. But, hey, an excuse to go back to that beautiful city. There's no point in bemoaning lost chances, is there? Its better and much more fun to create possibilities even if they have to remain dreams for the foreseeable future. Dreams can be wonderful motivators if we allow them to escape from the airy fairiness of our imagining, share them and enlist help in making them real. And then we simply have to dream more dreams that we can bring to fruition. Its important to always have some dreams tucked away for the days when the landscape seems grey. Then we can add colour wherever we are.

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