Peter's Blog

The Narrative Lectionary Overspill Pack

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Bean Overspill Pack for Narrative Lectionary

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From 2014 to 2018 the Spill the Beans Resource Team of which I am part as editor created resources covering a complete cycle of the Narrative Lectionary (created by Luther Seminary). Having completed that cycle, we felt it would be helpful if these were made available as a single pack.

These are presented as is, however, which does mean that if used in the future you may find, depending on when Easter falls, that there is a gap in the cycle. You have been warned! This was the same for the previous pack covering a cycle through the Revised Common Lectionary that we put together.

Nonetheless, we pray the shared creativity will stir your own creativity and that the Spirit of God would continue to bless these resources in your own situation and ministries.

Within this pack are more than 2,000 pages of resources. That is quite amazing. Each issue is provided as a separate pdf file. As a bonus from the previously available downloaded copies, all these are in glorious high quality rendering.

This is a massive pack (around 348 MB in size) so if you purchase a copy make sure to be patient as it downloads and to do that download on a laptop or desktop computer (not a phone or tablet). The file needs to be extracted once you have it on your computer.

A New Adventure with Spill the Beans

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 28

The first of five issues using our new lectionary (bible reading plan) is here for Spill the Beans. Issue 28 covers from Pentecost 13 to Reign of Christ Sunday (19 August to 25 November 2018. We have a number of series of services including:

  • Children and Young People
  • Beginnings
  • Harvest
  • Joseph's Story
  • The Book of Numbers

Created by folks here in Scotland, this issue has lots of ideas and resources for you to inspire, adapt, use in leading worship or for age groups in Junior Churches and youth groups. If you have not used Spill the Beans before then have a look at this sample.

If you want to have a look at the full lectionary click here.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 28 for use in your church or personally, then click the 'Buy' button below. The cost is only £12 (GBP). You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet as soon as you have downloaded it.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is large at approximately 17 MB so it may take some time to download. Please be patient as your computer does so!

Spill the Beans Issue 28

Spill the Beans Issue 28 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook page in which we share ideas and we have introduced a new facebook group which you can link to from the facebook page and which we hope will provide a place of mutual support, ideas and encouragement as we trek together through this new adventure.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Defending Democracy

Written by Peter Johnston on .

In years gone by I used this blog to explore some areas of politics that impacted particularly on the question of who we are as a society, reflecting this within the light of Jesus' ethic towards the stranger, the least of these, and the powerful.

Recently, I have been so overwhelmed by the rapidity and level of upheaval we see around us that it has left me little time to write about what is happening, though some commentary and use of what is going on in our world do make their way into sermons as illustrations.

Part of the reason for this is the sheer complexity of what is going on. I have found myself over the last couple of years sliding into a pattern of finishing work at night and then settling down to three hours or so of news consumption into the small hours, and paying for news sources from which (with care) I appreciate their reporting or commentary for its insight, commitment to the truth, and passion. We have long had a subscription to The Economist, but now that has been joined by subscriptions to The Guardian, The New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker and The Young Turks Network. I used to rely on the BBC for a lot of news reportage which is much cheaper to do, of course, but have become very concerned at what I perceive to be a lack of inquisitiveness over their reporting on Brexit and the mounting scandals around it.

It takes a lot of effort to try to keep up with what is going on, and time to read more deeply from authors writing about what we see unfolding and the parallels from history that serve as a warning to us. It is a warning that I fear we are sleep-walking past amidst the confusion of competing claims to the truth, subterfuge and incompetence on the parts of those with whom we have granted power and responsibility.

I read to Carolyn yesterday this longer form piece by Jonathan Chait and as I was reading it I exclaimed: "This really is an excellent summary!" Trying to keep in one's mind what is going on in politics and global relationships at the moment is rather like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle without the complete picture as your guide. Each story, each scandal, each new piece of evidence is a tiny part of a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Knowing how these different pieces fit together takes a lot of effort, but as I read Chait's piece it puts together in one place so much of what I have read in many disparate places - the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle - and is well worth your time.

We in the democratic world are facing a crisis at the moment, but like many such crises in the past it is not always simple to grasp the enormity of the peril when in the middle of it. These things rarely happen overnight. They happen step by step by step, a slow erosion of the norms and safeguards that protect the political experiment that is democracy.

For my generation, having grown up knowing nothing other than the relative peace and stability that the post-war commitment to democracy and to developing mutually beneficial international relationships (though not without their own problems) this is, I think, harder to grasp. We have an expectation that what is will continue to be, but that is not necessarily so. We must strive to defend what we believe to be in the best interests of the peace and justice of ourselves and our sisters and brothers.

Powerful elements, including Putin's kleptocratic regime in Russia, super wealthy political donors and multinational corporations, are corrupting our politics to an extent we have not seen in many generations. In these situations, needless to say, the people who will and are going to end up suffering the most are those who are the least of these, to use Jesus' phrase. And so we see migrant children locked in concentration camps in the United States, torn from their parents by a government which, instructed by the courts to return those children, kept no paper trail that would enable the reuniting of parents and children. We see Putin's regime manipulate the electorates of multiple democratic countries through donations, hacking, blackmail of politicians, online bots, bribery, with a sideline in the murder of opposing voices and a penchant for poison. We see the two main campaigns for Brexit (Leave.EU and Vote Leave) both now accused with evidence that demands further investigation of corruption and breaking electoral laws to gain an unfair advantage.

Who benefits from this corruption? Who benefits from the breakdown of relationships within countries and between nations? It is never the poor and marginalised. We heard a week or so ago how those who backed Brexit made a fortune on shorting the pound, possibly with Nigel Farage's knowing nod and wink to stir financial markets on the night of the election.

My understanding of the nature of God and of our image of God as Trinity, three persons in one, is that the very being of God is based around relationship. That relationship extends towards creation: seeking to bind one another together in a society that cares for each other: love God, love your neighbour as yourself. This is what I keep in my mind as what God's kingdom looks like: a commonwealth where we strive to make decisions that benefit all.

At the moment, the powers of selfishness and 'me first' are in the ascendancy here in Britain, in the USA, in other parts of Europe. If we really value and believe that Jesus had it right about society, then we must speak out and act before we find our voices silenced: reach out to our politicians, speak to each other, proclaim a different way of living together beyond the simplistic vision of winners and losers.

We are in this fight together.

 

Spill the Beans: Summer 2018

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 27

The summer issue is here for Spill the Beans picking up on three of the short series suggested by the Narrative Lectionary team at Luther Seminary. This is the final issue in our four year journey through the Narrative Lectionary and it has been a fabulous time which we have enjoyed as a team very much.

Issue 27 covers from Trinity Sunday to Pentecost 12, 27 May to 12 August 2018. This includes three different short series:

  • The Ten Commandments
  • 1st John
  • Ruth

Created by folks here in Scotland, this issue has lots of ideas and resources for you to inspire, adapt, use in leading worship or for age groups in Junior Churches and youth groups. If you have not used Spill the Beans before then have a look at this sample.

Looking ahead to the future, we have taken many of the suggestions provided by many churches about the stories we do not often hear at worship and have devised our own lectionary to cover the gap between the end of the Narrative Lectionary cycle and the start of Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary. We are looking forward to doing something different and taking a year to spend with stories from the Bible that are not on our usual plans. It should be a lot of fun. This will begin with Issue 28 but if you want to have a look at the full lectionary click here.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 27 for use in your church or personally, then click the 'Buy' button below. The cost is only £12 (GBP). You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet as soon as you have downloaded it.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 7 MB so it may take some time to download. Please be patient as your computer does so!

Spill the Beans Issue 27

Spill the Beans Issue 27 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Easter Yarnbombing

Written by Peter Johnston on .

A year ago I went for a walk with the dogs at Crathes Castle and enjoyed seeing the beautiful yarnbombing on the trees along the driveway up the castle. It gave me a notion... Then a couple of months ago I was asked to provide a response to the Life and Work magazine's Big Question (a regular item in the Church of Scotland magazine where a number of folks are asked for their responses to a particular question) which was "Is your church doing anything different for Holy Week?"

The idea came together with the impetus to write something for Life and Work so I wrote about a plan to yarnbomb all the trees around Ferryhill Kirk. Only, I had not shared that idea with anyone before I had to submit my copy for Life and Work.

When I did, however, the response was brilliant. We had folks knitting away during the services, friends and relations, including some who were watching the YouTube stream of the service (all the way from Portugal!) and residents at the next door Cowdray Club Care Home all adding their contributions in order to decorate and bring some colour to this wee corner of Ferryhill. Some people, including Rev Mary Whittaker, learnt how to knit just to be able to add their own square.

When you spend a bit of time looking at the variety of styles and colours, the knitting and crocheting, the types of yarn used, you see a representation of the rich diversity of people who contributed, a symbol of our own diversity as a community: all different yet all drawn together.

With the amazing response, we had enough yarn not just to decorate the trees but also the pillars and more. Thank you to everyone who contributed their knitting and crochet skills.

But that was not all. For the idea was to slowly grow the extent of the yarnbombing over Holy Week. This is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday: the week in which we remember Jesus' last days after his arrival in Jerusalem with his friends. It is a week that ends on Good Friday with the crucifixion and then the dawn of hope on the day of resurrection, Easter. We wanted to represent this graphically and to help us do that Leila Kleineidam, an art student at Grays, took up the challenge and created seven pieces of original artwork that reflected on the Bible passages I had given her as inspiration. This artwork was photographed and then printed on weatherproof banner so that it would withstand the worst of the weather. Each day during Holy Week we decorated a new tree and added the artwork associated with that day until the whole area was decorated for Easter Sunday.

With the weather continuing to be so cold and with no greenery visible on the trees at all just yet, this art installation provides a much needed shot of colour that celebrates Easter Sunday and a great talking point. I have had numerous conversations with people intrigued by what this all means over the last week.

We intend to keep the yarnbombing in place throughout the Easter season all the way to Pentecost Sunday, so you will have plenty of time to have a look and study the handiwork.

After that, the intention is to re-purpose the yarn squares and create blankets with them.

Thanks again to everyone who helped create this beautiful display.

Spill the Beans for Lent/Easter 2018

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 26

First things first: my apologies for this issue being close to the wire. Alas, a nasty bug in the post-Christmas season caused the delays for my part. But we are here with a big issue, 144 pages full of resources and ideas for Lent-Easter-Pentecost. This covers us to the end of the formal Narrative Lectionary cycle, though we will have one more issue covering the summer which will also use the suggested reading from the Narrative Lectionary team.

Issue 26 covers from the first Sunday in Lent, 18 February 2018, to Pentecost Sunday on 20 May 2018.

Created by folks here in Scotland, this issue has lots of ideas and resources for you to inspire, adapt, use in leading worship or for age groups in Junior Churches and youth groups. If you have not used Spill the Beans before then have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 26 for use in your church or personally, then click the 'Buy' button below. The cost is only £12 (GBP). You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet as soon as you have downloaded it.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 7 MB so it may take some time to download. Please be patient as your computer does so!

Spill the Beans Issue 26

Spill the Beans Issue 26 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Slept in the Park

Written by Peter Johnston on .

At last a few moments to look back at last weekend and the Sleep in the Park event in Edinburgh. It has been a busy week since and this week in the run up to Christmas looks even more manic, but I just had to get something down here about the night that some of us spent in Princes Street Gardens on 9 December 2017.

With Victoria Kleinsorge, the recently appointed Children's and Youth Worker at South Holburn Parish Church, we decided to put to the young people of both congregations the idea of supporting Sleep in the Park and they all thought it was a good idea, even though not everyone would be able to participate in the actual sleepout in Edinburgh. You need to be 16 or over for that. Nonetheless, five of us decided we were up for the challenge and everyone else helped in the fundraising at both churches.

This has been a great way for folks to work together from both youth groups, and when we registered with Social Bite Fund we had to come up with a name for our team which led to 'shipping' our two congregations (if you don't know what that means, ask a young person!) with the name Ferryburn Fellowship.

A huge thanks to everyone that sponsored us, came along to the afternoon tea or added your donations online. At the time of writing we have raised £1366.30 (with Gift Aid), more than double the initial £600 we targeted.

This money is going to support a plan to eradicate homelessness in Scotland, making available homes and support systems for those who find themselves without a roof over their heads. As Josh Littlejohn, the co-founder of Social Bite and one of the instigators of the event, said, it is surely not beyond the wit and capacity of the Scottish people in the 21st century to find a way to help those who have found themselves sleeping rough. The numbers of people sleeping rough, I have always felt, serves as a kind of barometer to the kind of country we are.

The plan for the Sleep in the Park event was to raise £4 million and to raise awareness of the plight of those sleeping rough. In the last email I received from Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson, they indicated that a total of £3.7 million has been raised. Furthermore almost 500 homes have been made available across the central belt with discussions starting in Dundee and Aberdeen. This is good news.

But what about the night itself? Well, the five of us, Victoria, Alexander, Andrew, Katherine and I, set off from Aberdeen with our mats, sleeping bags and many, many layers while ice and snow still covered the ground. We had it on good report that there had been no snow in Edinburgh. We parked up at Ingliston Park & Ride and took the tram (free for those participating) all the way to Princes Street. We were not alone on the tram, there were many others dressed up with their sleeping gear. The look of bemused bewilderment from the tram staff was noted!

As the tram made its way down Princes Street we saw the huge queues of people waiting to get into the park. On joining the queue there was a great atmosphere even though it was bitterly cold. Thankfully, it was dry and there was very little wind. It took a long time for us to get in to the park, tickets and bags checked and then we set off to find a spot to set up our sleeping bags. We were given big orange survival bags as we entered the park, so we found a spot on the east side of the Ross bandstand up the grass slope, covered in tarpaulin, an area where we would be lying at a little bit of an angle, looking up at the night sky. Having marked out our stuff, some of us with Dons scarves!, we set off on the hunt for some food as music was playing on the stage. This hunt for food took some time. There were three trailers providing a variety of food, but the queues were big here too. We wondered why there were not more food trailers available until we found out that those present were donating their proceeds to the event itself, so kudos to those present. With a few vegetarians in our group we headed for the burger stand to get some chips only to find out after waiting a long time that the "fryer was frozen"! This really made me chuckle!

We headed over to the other side and the pizza trailer where we did eventually get food (the queue for this trailer a bit later in the evening was running at 1.5 hours...) including a rather bizarre haggis pizza which I just had to try.

By this time although we had heard all the music and some of Rob Bryden's quips inbetween, we had missed seeing Amy Macdonald and Deacon Blue. But we were in time for seeing the set by Liam Gallagher and then enjoying a bedtime fairy tale from John Cleese. This was as surreal and irreverent as one would expect from the comedy hero. Though, gosh, he was looking older...

We then trekked back to our sleeping area, by now a few hours after we had left it. Things had changed in that time. The survival bags with our sleeping bags inside were covered with frost, as was the tarpaulin on which we had set up our space. Now as we slithered up the slope to reach our spot and then got into our sleeping bags we found we started inevitably to succumb to gravity's lure, slithering back down the hill with any movement we made. We quickly realised that the plan of sleeping up the slope a bit might have a rather serious flaw!

Next to us was a section of the slope that was tarpaulined but not used as a sleeping zone and many decided to use their survival bags as makeshift toboggans, fairly hurtling down the hill dodging the trees with varying degrees of success. This was a real laugh and we started to give out points for style and execution until Health and Safety stepped in... probably not a bad thing in the circumstances.

Did we sleep? Well, I managed to read half the book I was reading overnight. I sometimes stopped and lay on my back, hat firmly pulled down over my ears and with the sleeping bag all the way up past my nose, just looking up at the tree that was rooted a little below us on the slope. I watched the stars as they made their way through the branches of the tree, an indicator of time passing slowly by. Inside our sleeping bags we were cosy, but it got colder and colder outside. Some of us dozed a little, perhaps for 20 or 30 minutes before waking and stirring, slithering down a little, trying to pull ourselves back up. There was not a lot of restful sleep.

Come 5 a.m. we were all awake and chatting, pondering how long to stay. Katherine turned to me and said, "There's a guy next to me who wasn't there before!" He had slithered all the way down the slope from further up the hill. At 5.20 a.m. we got up. Everything was completely covered in frost now. Trying to roll up the sleeping bags, covered in ice, with bare hands was excruciating. My hands froze up trying to squeeze the sleeping bags into their sacks. It was a real eye opener. By this time the temperature was down to around -6 C. Cold, and ready for something warm to drink and eat, we were back on the tram which was, the tram inspector noted, far more busy than was usual for a Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Then back to the car and we headed home. On the way back home the outside temperature on the car varied from -6 to -9 C. It had indeed been a very cold night.

I was asked by Andrew what three words came to mind from participating in Sleep in the Park and the three that are most obvious are: cold, humbling and hopeful.

It truly was a humbling experience to share in one of the coldest nights in Scotland with those who also would have been sleeping out that night, not by choice. It was especially humbling because we knew we had a warm car to escape to and later in the day beds to sink into at home. We had had little sleep and yet at 5 a.m. there was no sense of wanting to stay tucked up in our sleeping bags. For someone who is not a morning person, this really got over how grim it is to be sleeping rough. There is no sense of enjoying a lie-in for an extra ten minutes after hitting the snooze button. As the night progressed, and as the temperature dipped ever more despite our sleeping bags, many layers of clothes, insulating mats and survival bags, we were starting to feel the cold penetrating. The thought of spending the rest of the day also on the street, never getting properly warmed up, was revealing.

But it was also a hopeful event because you saw in the camaraderie of 8,000 people willing to give of their time and effort a true solidarity with those in need of help. It is indeed not beyond our wit and capacity as a country to do more to assist those who find themselves in the dire circumstances of homelessness. Homelessness brings with it a spiral of ripple effects that make getting back into full inclusion within society so much more difficult. Try finding a job, for instance, if you do not have an address or a bank account. It inevitably reminded me of how Jesus also worked in his own culture to bring people who found themselves excluded - sometimes because of choices they had made in the past, but more often because life had simply overwhelmed them - back into community.

I really hope for the young folks who joined me on this trip that this was also for them an eye-opening and worthwhile night: doing something to help others, gaining more empathy for the plight of those sleeping rough, and working together to make a difference. Thanks again to all of you who supported us.

 

The Messiah but not as you remember it

Written by Peter Johnston on .

I am using a part of this on Sunday as a reflection on the Isaiah 9:1-7 reading. It is a version of G.F. Handel's glorious "Messiah" (HWV 56) and on Sunday we will hear "For unto us a Child is born". I just love this modern interpretation, so if you want to immerse yourself in this version, here is the whole performance staged by Claus Guth, Konrad Kuhn and Christian Schmidt. The choir is Arnold Schoenberg Choir and the orchestra is the Ensemble Matheus.

Sleep in the Park

Sleep in the Park

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Over the last month the young people of Ferryhill Kirk's Cosy House and South Holburn Church's Youth Fellowship have met together. Last week we came up for a name for our joint venture: Ferryburn Fellowship. We are planning to participate in supporting the "Sleep in the Park" event that is taking place in Edinburgh on 9 December 2017. This is a sleepout in Princes Street Gardens to both raise awareness of the increased levels of homelessness in Scotland and to raise money to support a five year plan to help eradicate homelessness in Scotland. Six of us are planning to take part in the actual sleepout in December, and the rest are helping to raise the money we need to do so. We need to raise at least £600 together in order to meet our pledge as a part of our participation. 

You can help us in a number of ways.

  • We held an Afternoon Tea on Saturday 18 November from 2 to 4 p.m. in the church foyer. This raised £390.60. A massive thank you to everyone who supported us on the day and with the wonderful selection of homebakes.
  • Donation envelopes available from Sunday 19 November at the church.
  • Or, you can make a donation online securely through this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ferryburn-fellowship.

Thank you for helping!

As of 20 November we have now raised £862.20 so we have reached our minimum goal, though we will of course keep on receiving donations which will all go to help this project. We are going to be participating! Thank you!

 

The Christmas Spill Is Here!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 25

Here we go with another issue of Spill the Beans packed with ideas for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. This continues our journey through the fourth year of the Narrative Lectionary cycle.

Issue 25 covers from the first Sunday in Advent, 3 December 2017, to Transfiguration Sunday on 11 February 2018.

As always, created by folks here in Scotland as a labour of love, this issue has lots of ideas and resources for you to inspire, adapt, use in a worship setting or for age groups in Junior Churches and youth groups. If you have not used Spill the Beans before then have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 25 for use in your church or personally, then click the 'Buy' button below. The cost is only £12 (GBP). You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet as soon as you have downloaded it.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 5 MB so it may take some time to download. Please be patient as your computer does so!

Spill the Beans Issue 25

Spill the Beans Issue 25 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Sending Thoughts and Prayers?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

This evening I saw some of the footage from the smartphones of those in Las Vegas who were in or around the site of the music festival that was attacked from a hotel window by Stephen Paddock. As I write this 59 people are confirmed dead, more than 500 injured. The footage was surreal, the sounds associated with a war zone: automatic gun fire. It is horrific. And sadly this is one of almost 300 mass shootings in the USA in 2017.

When safe spaces, such as a music festival or a gay nightclub (remembering Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year) become killing fields our reaction should and must be horror and, surely, a desire to take action that this kind of thing cannot happen again.

So take all that for granted, please. The person who caused the horror last night in Las Vegas was Stephen Paddock. On him lies the blame.

We live in society, we do not live in isolation from each other. We live together with responsibility for each other. And part of that responsibility is creating laws that enable our protection of each other. This is what the Ten Commandments were about for a wandering tribe millennia ago: a means to help protect one another.

Listening to Donald Trump speak about the atrocity, and thankfully restricted to reading remarks from a teleprompter so that he did not veer off, I was struck and depressed to hear how much he called on the name of God and referenced multiple times how he was praying for the people involved.

Surely this is a good thing? I would say yes in the case of any sincere person. But Trump is self-evidently not sincere, and when he tries to talk God-talk it is painfully obvious that he has no idea what he is talking about. Someone else wrote the words he spoke.

Yet I am not really going to blame Trump for the way he instantly reverted to language of prayer in response to this attack. For he is far from alone. How many times do we read politicians in response to terrible events pull out the prayer card? How many times do we read a tweet from a politician saying something like "Sending thoughts and prayers to the people of...". I think I may even have used similar language in the past, for it has become a shorthand for "I am helpless, but feel like I have to say something positive."

What was I thinking? What does that even mean? Sending prayers? Are we really thinking that prayers are like telegrams? Sending a prayer is sending a little packet of condolence across the world? Or do we thinking sending prayers is like waving a wand to make things better?

Let's be honest here, and especially when it comes to politicians, it is often lazy language. To say "I'm sending thoughts and prayers..." is a way to appear concerned and compassionate, but without any cost. Am I being too cynical? I don't think so. For so many of these politicians in the USA that are talking about sending prayers, such as Donald Trump, will do absolutely nothing to take active action that might help prevent another such atrocity from taking place. Yet it is in their power to actually change laws that would make such an event far less likely to happen. It is in their hands to save lives, to make a difference, but they don't want to admit it.

I can guarantee, just as in the past year since the shooting in Orlando, Florida, nothing will be done to put checks on gun ownership or reduce the sea of guns that exist in the United States. Even worse than that, while sending "thoughts and prayers" many of these same politicians will be taking money from gun companies and lobbyists and passing laws that make gun ownership more easy at home and abroad. Just last week we heard the Trump administration was wanting to free up the rules to allow more guns from domestic manufacturers to be sold abroad, and there has been talk about making the purchase of gun silencers easier. Trump earlier this year removed a change Obama had introduced to try to prevent gun sales to people with mental health issues.

So what I hear when many politicans say "Sending thoughts and prayers..." is "I want to appear compassionate but I am going to do nothing to stop this kind of thing from happening."

That really makes me sad and frustrated, and, with the more cynical politicians, angry. Because it is a fundamental misunderstanding of prayer. Indeed it is an abuse of what prayer is about. It likens prayer to a magic wand, or worse it makes it just another meaningless warm, friendly word. I believe prayer is powerful and necessary, but not in the way that is meant by the thoughtless use of the word in these statements.

What is prayer? There are whole books on the subject, so I cannot do it full justice in this blog post, but here's the crux of it for me: prayer is our active engagement with aligning ourselves to the will of God. Prayer, in all its many forms, is a way for us to come closer to God, and for God's will to become clearer to us so that we, in turn, can then do something about it. So when I pray to God about a particular situation I am doing so with some trepidation because the answer to that prayer I expect to be thrown back into my hands: 'here's what you should be doing about it, Peter!' What will God want of me? If I lift up in prayer the situation of homeless people in our country, I am not doing it to hand over the situation to God, like it is some divine game of Pass the Parcel, I do it with the expectation of conviction towards action.

Prayer does not exist in isolation, as I hope you see. For me, it exists as part of a relationship with God through Jesus. It is intimately tied up and connected with a greater knowledge of God's ways, as revealed to us in Jesus, and through the Spirit of God's nudging and guiding. We need to know more about what Jesus was doing, what he taught, how he lived, why he did what he did, in order to understand the way of God. All this then doubles back on us takign the time to pray and reflect, to bring to God our own situations and think through with God what this means for us. In that process of bringing to God situations and people that concern us what we are really doing is bringing ourselves humbly before God with our concerns about these situations and people in order that we uncover how we can best help those situations or those people. Prayer is fundamentally about changing us, it is about bringing us, our thoughts and our actions, into greater alignment with God. You see this with Jesus as he talks to his disciples about prayer and offers up his model of prayer, the Lord's Prayer. It is a prayer that brings us closer to God that we may live out God's way in our lives.

This is partly why I am confident in the insincerity of Donald Trump when he quotes scripture and talks of praying for situations: he has no clue what Jesus was about, indeed I am certain that if Jesus' life and the reason why Jesus did what he did was explained to Trump his reaction would be: "What a loser!" It is the language Trump has used about the Mayor of San Juan Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as she desperately has been trying to help, actively, her own people survive the onslaught of two hurricanes by appealing to her President for assitance. He mocked her leadership by tweet on Saturday.

This is why hearing politicians use the language of prayer as a cover so that they can avoid taking action makes me so mad. What they are doing is the opposite of prayer. If they were really praying about it and thereby opening themselves up to God, I have no doubt we would see far more action to alleviate the causes of so much heartache and sorrow in the world.

 

Signing the Lord's Prayer

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Over the next couple of months we will be encouraging us all on a Sunday morning to join with Rev Mary Whittaker during the Lord's Prayer to also sign the prayer. If you would like to practise that, please use the video above!

Sovereignty's Counterbalance

Written by Peter Johnston on .

On Sunday past we were thinking in the service about the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, particularly the traumatic event of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22-23). The service can be re-watched here.

One of the themes that in the sermon I tried to draw on was the challenge we have in understanding two aspects of God. It is a challenge that Martin Luther and John Calvin also talked about in reference to interpreting this difficult story. Those two aspects of God are on the one hand the sovereignty of God, and on the other the graceful provision of God. The tale of Abraham and Isaac climbing that mountain in Moriah is a story that reveals both, and reveals the tension between them. At least from our understanding it looks like and feels like tension.

On the one hand, with the sovereignty of God we have that assertation of God as the one to be worshipped without question for God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. God is all powerful, all knowing and always present. This is a God in which the language of "the fear of God" is well warranted.

Yet on the other hand we also have a God who provides for us out of gracious love. This is the God who forgives and offers new starts. This is the God of the rainbow promise. God's sovereignty and God's gracious blessing.

It is challenging to grasp this, and hence the tension between the two. What the story of Abraham and Isaac does is to walk a line between them, trying in this graphical storytelling form to understand what this all means. How much it works as such I leave up to you.

This past week I saw something which illustrated beyond a question of a doubt for me the danger, however, in not having this tension between the two: when one aspect dominates over the other.

The illustration came in the form of President Donald Trump's extraordinary speech before representatives of the world's nations at the United Nations on 19 September 2017.

This speech in its condemnatory and dark fearful tone reminded me of only two other similar speeches at the UN: one being President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela  in 2006 calling President Bush the "devil" and Muammar Gadaffi of Libya in 2009 railing against the West. Hallowed company for a President who aspires to the despot.

In his speech, Trump repeatedly referred to the sovereignty of the United States and to the sovereignty of other nations. Of course, it is language of which we are familiar here in the UK too following the Brexit referendum and reclaiming our sovereignty from the EU. Trump repeatedly used the term "sovereignty" in order to clearly distinguish the rights of the United States and to distance them from any shared sense of responsibility as nations together. The message was clear: every nation for itself, the powerful will dominate smaller nations, and intervene only when it is good for one's own nation. This message was given in the heart of the organisation that, warts 'n' all, exists to do the opposite and was founded as the antidote to worldwide war. All this under "sovereignty". This is when power runs amok without the balancing of grace and blessing and provision.

Having read quite a bit of Donald Trump's story over the last couple of years, none of this is a surprise. His whole life story is one of taking for yourself at the expense of others. His modus operandii has always been one of taking advantage of the little guy from the scam operation of Trump University to how he treats contractors working on his projects. His world view is a zero-sum world view where there is only so much wealth in the world and he is out to take as much of it as he can, whoever gets in his way, whatever he has to say to get it. It is desperately and pitifully sad. It also has real repercussions for millions of us.

One example that really struck me was when Trump talked about the refugee crisis facing the world. He attempted to argue that it was the humane thing to do to keep refugees as close to their home countries as possible. Now there is an argument to be had about migration and the impact it has on both sending and receiving countries, and this argument he alludes to in his words "We have learned that over the long term, uncontrolled migration is deeply unfair to both the sending and the receiving countries..." but here he is deliberately compounding two different things: economic migrants and refugees fleeing war/drought/starvation/ethnic cleansing. It was a nice ruse which panders to the worst of the white nationalist voices within the United States who love Trump's anti-refugee rhetoric. Think about it. The humane thing to do, Trump argued, was to refuse to open our doors to those fleeing terror.

But most damaging of all was the assumption behind everything that Trump said, and again reflecting his view of sovereignty, that countries should only work together when they themselves will get something out of it. And that something, in Trump's mind, must be a something "extra". For Trump, and this you see throughout his business practices, simply paying for a contractor for the work they have done is not a good deal. His idea of a good deal is then to rip off that contractor in order get that something "extra" - that is a good deal. So when it comes to discussions between nations Trump cannot understand much of what constitutes good diplomacy because in his mind there is no extra something. Hence pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord - what was in it for the United States and only for the United States? The idea of a shared responsibility and a shared benefit is anathema.

Or, for instance, take his sabre rattling against North Korea and their ever more desperate nuclear programme. Trump is being hyper-aggresive in a provocative and alarming way here, the two leaders like playground bullies throwing taunts at each other. Yet, through careful diplomacy over many years the United States and other nations came to an agreement with Iran over their own nascent nuclear programme. Trump hates it because he doesn't see what the United States get as that something "extra". What the world gets is one less nation working towards nuclear weapons. But that kind of internationalism means nothing to Trump and his view of the omnipotent United States. Where is the "win" for the USA? Without that, it is of no worth to Trump. That and it was an agreement reached under Trump's historical nemesis, Barack Obama, whose legacy Trump is determined to wipe off the face of the earth.

This is the concept of sovereignty of one nation spinning out of control. That it is the most powerful nation on the planet which is doing so is even more alarming.

So what do we do about it? Well, it goes back to the story of Abraham and Isaac. If the sovereignty of God in that story had no counterbalance then Isaac would have been sacrificed and Abraham would forever have gone down in history as a maniac. But grace and compassion balance the story. This is where we in the church come in to live out and provide that counterbalance to the discussions of unbridled sovereignty that are running rampant across our political discourse at present.

This is the counterbalance that reaches out to smaller nations to help them step up. It is the counterbalance that acknowledges that the world is collectively better off when we work together. It is the counterbalance that recognises the longer term future of our world relies on opening ourselves vulnerably to each other acknowledging we do not have all the answers invidividually. It is the counterbalance that not only seeks to protect the vulnerable and the refugee, but also seeks to understand and correct what led to their predicament. It is the counterbalance that lays aside a claim to all the riches of the world. It is the counterbalance that recognises the humanity in all of our world's citizens. It is the counterbalance that strives for a world that can maintain itself and renew itself. It is the counterbalance that seeks good stewards of God's creation rather than warriors bent on destruction.

Time is ticking.

Spill the Beans Issue 24 is a Go!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 24

We start the fourth year of the Narrative Lectionary cycle, the final year which has John's gospel as its focus, and the Spill the Beans Resource Team has got the next issue for the autumn ready. I've finished putting it all together today and so it is out as I need a holiday!

Issue 24 covers the second half of the Pentecost season from Pentecost 14 to the end of the church calendar on Reign of Christ Sunday, from 10 September to 26 November 2017. As we journey with the Hebrew people through the autumn we do so under the thematic signpost marked "Go!"

As always, created by folks here in Scotland as a labour of love, this issue has lots of ideas and resources for you to inspire, adapt, use in a worship setting or for age groups in Junior Churches and youth groups. If you have not used Spill the Beans before then have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 24 for use in your church or personally, then click the 'Buy' button below. The cost is only £12 (GBP). You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 4 MB so it may take some time to download.

Spill the Beans Issue 24

Spill the Beans Issue 24 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Faith In Politics

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Faith In Politics

The Joint Public Issues Team (which has representation from the Church of Scotland, Baptist Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church) has produced a helpful paper for approaching the 2017 General Election exploring many of the key issues which we all face in a rapidly changing political landscape.

It opens saying:

Does the prospect of the upcoming election fill you with excitement, or apathy? Or something in-between?

Every General Election presents an opportunity for citizens to participate critically and constructively in the democratic process. It may be a cliché to suggest that there has “never been so much at stake”, but there is an element of truth to this saying. We are living in an unprecedented political moment. There are many things that are uncertain about the future of our country, and this is an important opportunity for you to challenge and scrutinise the policies and rhetoric of politicians.

The briefing paper tries to be as straightforward as possible in laying out the key facts to help us make our own decisions.

You can download a copy here.

Spill the Beans for Summer 2017

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 23

While many of us are just starting to enjoy Spring, others are already planning for Summer services. The Spill the Beans team has also been busy for this summer and just off my desk is Issue 23. This covers from Trinity Sunday to Pentecost 13, from 11 June to 3 September 2017. There is a short series on psalms, a series through Ephesians and then four weeks looking at the sacraments of baptism and communion. An interesting spread. Of course, while these are laid out in the book with specific dates, you could just use these small series at any time.

Those of you who have already used Spill the Beans know what a super resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you have not yet then have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 23 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. The cost is only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 6 MB so it will take some time to download.

Spill the Beans Issue 23

Spill the Beans Issue 23 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

The stoning of St Stephen

A hymn for St Stephen

Written by Peter Johnston on .

We are thinking about the story of St Stephen (Acts 6-7), famously known as the first Christian martyr, this Sunday but when planning the service I could not find a hymn that specifically spoke about Stephen's story.

Here is my contribution for others to use if they wish. We will be singing it, appropriately enough, to the tune St Stephen.

The Seven Men, Respected All
Words: Peter Johnston
Tune: St Stephen (Newington) CH 686
CM

1.  The seven men, respected all,
     were sent to serve the Lord;
     with blessing and the Spirit’s power
     their ministry outpoured.

2.  Amongst these men and strong of faith
    came Stephen, filled with grace.
    His love and care was known to them
    who saw in him God’s face.

3.  Through miracles and signs he worked         WOMEN
    to spread Good News to all;
    but questioned and maligned by some
    he faced his highest call.

4.  In Temple’s courts the high priest asked:    MEN
    “Is what they say the truth?”
    But Stephen’s face shone bright with light,
    his voice was raised anew.

5. “Listen to me!” he called aloud,
    and preached with holy fire.
    From Abraham to Moses he
    proclaimed God’s righteous ire:

6. “You stubborn people, deaf to truth.        WOMEN
    Why do you resist me?”
    And Stephen joined the ranks of those
    whose voices stilled must be.

7. “I see the Son of Man!” he cried,        MEN
    his eyes gazed heavenwards.
    The mob descended, stones flew down,
    yet grace was their reward.

8. Did Stephen know the price he’d pay,
    for living Jesus’ way?
    May we know Stephen’s courage strong:
    witness for God each day.

©2017 Sleepless Nights Productions

Living in other's shoes

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Another vlog today thinking about empathy and its role in politics.

Humility and Tolerance

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Fourth video in my wee series on faith and politics, thinking about the role of humility.

Who Is My Neighbour?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The difficult question of "Who is my neighbour?" as it applies in our current highly charged atmosphere of fear about immigration and of talk about border walls addressed in this third episode of my Faith and Politics vlog.