Peter's Blog

Ivan Cameron

Written by Peter Johnston on .

As a parent with children hovering around the same age as Ivan Cameron, the 6 year old son of David & Samantha Cameron, who died on Wednesday, I cannot imagine the grief they are feeling today.

It was good to see politics put on hold and Gordon Brown giving a compassionate message of solidarity with David and Samantha Cameron.  The Brown family, of course, have also lost a young child, which made his message all the more poignant. 

A Scots Lenten Reading

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An email came through to me today from the Scots Language Centre informing that over the next few weeks of Lent they will have an audio series of readings from the Scots New Testament. Check their home page, and enjoy following the unfolding Easter story spoken in the Scots language. You should see the player on the right side of the page.

Not my usual attire

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Beautiful Chinese embroidery

On Sunday afternoon the family all descended on Havelock Street, Glasgow for a farewell lunch to the house there before my folks move at the end of the week. With the children all outside in the park opposite playing, my mum, sis and I pulled out some old chinese hanfu (I think that is the name?!) garments that my grandfather (Rev J Horace Johnston) brought back from China when he returned from Kowloon after forming Kowloon Union Church in the late 1920s.

Despite being, I would assume, well over a hundred years old, the colours of the embroidery are still absolutely stunning, as is the intricate detail of the designs. [There's more...]

Scripture and science

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Experiment on a bird by Joseph Wright, 1768

When living in London it was such a joy to be able to pop into the great museums and galleries when you had some spare time. One of my favourite pictures in the National Gallery was the famous painting above from 1768 which captures with reverence the scene of a family gathering to witness a scientific experiment led by a natural philosopher. The painting by Joseph Wright is called "An experiment on a bird in an air pump". It captures the mixed reactions to the bird's sad demise in the interest of expanding knowledge. From the fascination and thoughtfulness of the two seated gentlemen, to the tears and horror of the girl comforted by her father (I assume). In the background the young servant boy looks on with interest. 

Of great appeal to me was the philosopher's seeming appeal to the viewer to join this gathering: what do you make of this science?

A new clarity

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Princes Street, Edinburgh

This morning I had a meeting at 121 George Street, Edinburgh, the Church of Scotland's main offices. On the way back to the car I stopped to take a picture of Princes Street, one of the busiest roads in the city... not at the moment! The whole street is closed until November while the workmen put in the tracks ready for the new Edinburgh tram system due to be running in 2011. It all feels a bit "back to the future"! 

The picture was taken using my new phone and I am quite pleased with the camera on it. In comparison to my last phone there is an astonishing new clarity to the images (albeit nothing like what you get with a proper camera) - something that is very evident from the full-size images, probably not from the small version above.

A stand against hatred

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Matthew Shephard

It was encouraging to see in Christian Today that a range of different Christian groups including the Evangelical Alliance, The Baptist Union of Great Britain, The Methodist and United Reformed Churches had taken a stand against the hatred that emanates from Westboro Baptist Church in the USA. Sadly, no comment from the C of S on the church's website.

Two of the members from Westboro Baptist Church were planning to picket a stage performance in Basingstoke of a play about the life of Matthew Shepard, pictured above, who was tortured and murdered in Wyoming. They have not been granted permission to enter the country for fear that their intent is to incite hatred.

Spring is coming!

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Snowdrops in front lawn

Could winter really be past? After the recent cold spell it is hard to believe that just a week or two later springing from the front lawn would be beautiful and delicate snowdrops, yet here they are again. That sign of new life and hope. Welcome, venturous harbinger of spring.

For your reflection, here is Wordsworth's To a Snowdrop:

Lone Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!  

The Stroop Effect

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Stroop Effect

Look at the words above. Try to say the colour of the words, rather than reading what the words say. You'll find that it is not as easy as you think. That is the Stroop effect. There is a dissonance going on in your brain between what the word says and the colour of the word itself. 

It is not unusual for me to baffle my wife, but tonight I really have her scratching her head!

And the walls came tumbling down

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Wiesler, Stasi agent, The Lives of Others

It has been a very long day. A morning of administrative work (yes, even ministers are submerged with paperwork these days!), an afternoon planning a holiday club for the Easter holidays, and an evening out at Law for the induction of a colleague to the church there. So, tonight while Carolyn is working away in the living room on her studies, I treated myself to a movie before planning tomorrow's assembly at the primary school.

The film was Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), a German film set predominantly in 1984 in East Germany. Not too promising for a light hearted evening's entertainment, I grant you!

A song for all mothers

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This had us in stitches. Hope you enjoy it too. If you are a parent count up how many of those lines you have heard coming out of your own mouth!

(Hat tip to David Burt) 

Memory Lane...

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Songs of Praise

Lots of old photos in amongst the stuff from Glasgow. Including this one from around 1983 when the BBC were filming Songs of Praise at Peterborough Cathedral. No guesses who's the chorister with glasses! 

The Careful Movers

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A van full of stuff

I'm pretty tired already and it is still afternoon! It was an early start today to pick up a van rental then my sister's partner to head up to Glasgow where we were going to pick up some furniture and other items from my parents. They are moving house imminently.

Why so tired? Well, they currently live on the third floor so we were up and down the stairs more times than I could keep count. It was much easier at the Cambuslang and Blantyre ends when we unloaded straight to the ground floor.

Hope for the World

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Tablets and Pills

Extraordinary news today in The Guardian that the drug giant GlaxoSmithKline is changing its policy towards pricing and patents in order to bring medicines to the developing world cheaper and more effectively. Wow, great news. They are even pledging a proportion of profits to aid hospitals in developing countries. It will be fascinating to see what the other drug companies do in response. 

At a first read it sounds like a good step forward, though I suspect it is just a first step in a longer journey. 

Jesus' life in 10 minutes?

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Jesus laughing

As part of The Easter Code: Can you crack it?, our Easter event for primary schools, we wanted to spend ten minutes in bringing the pupils up to speed before we launch into the events of holy week. We are tussling with different ways to do this. I spent some time this afternoon trying to write an account from Jesus' baptism through to Palm Sunday. It is quite a challenge to discern what to include and what to leave out so that you get a good overview of what Jesus was about, how people reacted to him and how his impact began to spread.

Although I have tried to be balanced, I am sure my own personal response to Jesus has an impact on the choices made.

Mrs Beamish

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern perform a great wee number for the C of E (Church of England).

(Hat tip to Scott Rennie) 

The Easter Code

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The Easter Code: Can you crack it?

Following the great success of "Bubblegum 'n' Fluff", the Christmas event the Calderside Learning Community Chaplaincy Team put together for the 350 or so Primary 6 children in the associated Primaries for Calderside Academy, we are at it again!!

We've been meeting weekly over the last few weeks and our plans for an Easter event to which we will invite all the P7 pupils from the associated Primaries are now really taking shape. And... we have a name - The Easter Code: Can you crack it?

Being Christian

Written by Peter Johnston on .

A typically thoughtful article from Simon Barrow on what it means to be a Christian in a post-Christian society. There is some resonance to my post of yesterday.

I particularly liked this:

'Faith', therefore, is not about submission to proposition, the refusal of reason, the deifying of texts, or clinging blindly to dogma. Rightly understood, it is the opposite of these things - it is a letting-go which goes on trusting beyond the definite 'full-stop' of certain kinds of rationalism, because it does not (and cannot) claim the power to impose limits on the love it encounters.

I respect atheists, but for me it would simply be impossible to claim that I can know enough to rule out God (which would, ironically, make me god-like, and eliminate those intimations of unquenchable love which I cannot simply rationalise away, so powerful are they).

For me, faith is continual ‘reasoning with a mystery’, without allowing yourself to be deceived into thinking that you can have an adequate handle on either reason or mystery, or that you can abandon one for the other – the temptation of both the ideologically religious and the ideologically non-religious.


And indeed the Christian faith has as its core the conviction that God comes through to us not as a text, a formula or a theory – but in a person who remains on what I would call ‘the disturbing margins’ of our attempts at world-construction through empire, religion and rational control. 

Reading the Bible

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Reading the Bible

At the end of our fellowship time following the service on Sunday someone came up to me and told me, with a wee smile, that, as the minister I should be careful of saying that something in the Bible might not be right.

The context was our look at the story Jesus told of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18: 21-35) that we used to explore the themes of patience and forgiveness during the service.  

Don't you wish you had an uncle like this?

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Bugatti found in shed...

Hand up... I am a self-confessed car nut. I've been following the story of the Bugatti Type 57S Atalante that was found in the shed of Harold Carr where it lay in its original condition for over 40 years. It is one of only 17 produced and dates back to 1937. For those of you who are sensible and do not suffer from this car nut condition you will see the picture and think - aye, just an old motor. But... for those in the know... it makes your legs go wobbly to think that this beautiful Bugatti was sitting in a shed in Newcastle for all that time.

Humble, like a child

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Watching a Storykeepers DVD

The podcast for this morning's service has been edited and is at the moment uploading to the website so you can listen or get an update on your iTunes this afternoon with part 4 of our Fruits of the Spirit series: Patience. There were quite a few folks on the way out today who told me it was a particularly meaningful message. Patience is one of those themes, isn't it? We could all do with more of that!

Yesterday we had a good day with folks travelling from all over to gather at St Andrew's for a training event for children's ministry leaders.