Peter's Blog

Atheist or Agnostic?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Atheist bus advert

It looks like Scotland is also going to get the controversial ads supported by Richard Dawkins (he of The God Delusion fame) on their buses in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow according to The Scotsman.

I must admit to being more amused than anything else by these advertisements. Why? Well, what on earth is an atheist advocate doing inserting "probably" to their advertisements? Surely this is more an advertisement for agnostics (those who just don't know)? If you really are a full-on atheist, shouldn't it read "There is no God..."?

However, my biggest bug-bear here is that the God that Dawkins' and others declaim is a God I hardly recognise either, and, truth be told, don't believe in myself. The God they rail about is the small-minded God of fundamentalism filled with vengeance, violence and petty judgement. The God I recognise and worship is God as revealed in Jesus: a God of limitless love, scandalous grace and reconciling peace. 


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Obama Rally in Edinburgh 2008

A surprise email came in today from the co-producer of a documentary following the wave of interest the US election has had around the world and the significant part this election will have in American history. He was present filming the rally I attended with the kids in Edinburgh a few days before the election took place - more about that here.

They are wanting to do a follow-up interview for around the time of Obama's inauguration later this month. All good fun. 

An eye for an eye...

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Father and son in Gaza

The situation in Gaza seems to be spiralling ever more towards the insane. If ever a region of the world needed for its own survival to recapture the power and transforming nature of love it is surely in this conflict that it can and will, I pray, make the biggest difference. For now, however, we have images like the above. And out is trotted the biblical mandate "eye for eye..." to defend revenge and retribution. Let us not forget that Jesus trumped that with "love your enemies".

Simon Barrow had a good piece yesterday on this subject On not being left eyeless in Gaza, a quote to whet your appetite:

The aphorism 'an eye for an eye' is Jewish in origin, but it has also been taken up in Christian and Muslim contexts, and has seeped far into secular usage too. The notion that this concept, as routinely understood, is just a religious idea is naive and ahistorical. Certain kinds of secular ideology have eagerly justified vengeance too.

In fact, however, the modern popular usage of 'an eye for an eye' is entirely misconceived.

What those who quote this famous phrase forget is that its original intention was not to amplify revenge, but rather to limit it. It is the law of proportionality that it seeks to instantiate - not advocacy of hatred and pre-emptive killing.

Come and see!

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Mother Teresa with an orphan child

An iconic photo of Mother Teresa from 1979 as she cradles an orphaned child with no arms in the orphanage she ran in Calcutta, India. (Photo by acclaimed photojournalist Eddie Adams.) In many ways Mother Teresa is an example to us of what it means to follow Christ in our lives, but I was particularly struck while reading Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical with his recollection of spending some time working in Calcutta with her.

Recession casualties

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If you want to know what a recession looks like, how about this? Pictures taken today in Woolworths at the Forge in Glasgow on their final day of trading. Even the shelving was up for grabs. There was something very sad about it all, even before you considered all the people losing their jobs within the stores, and, no doubt, amongst suppliers too.

Today M&S also announced 1,000 job cuts.

Which raises the question for us in the church: what can we do to bring hope to those losing their jobs?


Thank you, kids!

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Ibanez GSR200 Bass Guitar

For Christmas the children had all written out cheques for me with an amount of their choosing up to £25 as their present. The younger two gave the full whack, the other two for some reason that I haven't pursued decided I only deserved £20.50! I was going to save the money for a lens for my camera at some point in the future, but after being asked by my friend and colleague Iain Cunningham to play bass guitar at a Church Without Walls Conference next week, I thought I would use the money to buy a bass guitar. A bit of practise never hurt anyone, right?

As a fan of Ibanez I bought one of their low-end bass guitars (a GSR200) that Merchant City Music had on a fantastic deal and I am having a lot of fun playing it. It is a different technique to a regular guitar, but having played a guitar for many years you certainly have a head-start. A good knowledge of music theory also helps so you know what you are doing as far as harmonisation and chord structure goes. Not sure when it will appear on a Sunday morning during worship... but at some point... 

What not to say to a church visitor...

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Sacred Church Space

One of the great clichés of church life is that old chestnut example of "warm welcome" that goes something like, "You can't sit there! That is so-and-so's seat!" I've heard many tales of it, but it has never happened to me, I suppose because I'm usually sitting up front! However, it actually happened to us today.

Sons of David

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A representation of Solomon's Temple

One of my targets for my couple of week's break was to read a few books and yesterday I read a book written by Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus Wants To Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile, which has just been published. I managed to snag the last copy at Amazon and I note today they still are out of stock, though I am sure they will have more on the way!

What a great book! I have enjoyed reading both of Rob Bell's previous books, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith and Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality, and this latest went further to inspire and encourage. I have recommended Velvet Elvis to a number of people, and would have no hesitation in doing the same with this latest book.

Happy New Year!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Fireworks over Edinburgh at Hogmanay

All good blessings to you for 2009!

Another Hogmanay passes and, at this time of our life, another quiet Hogmanay... long gone are the days of revelling on the streets either in Edinburgh or London! At least this year I had the company of my wife - she had been working in 2006 & 2007 - and once the fireworks started around the town Sophia joined us saying she couldn't sleep... 

The turn of a new year, turning a new page, an opportunity for many of us both to look back and to look forward. What will the new year bring? 

Join the Parade

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Marc Cohn performing in NYC

One of Carolyn's presents at Christmas was a recent album from the singer and songwriter Marc Cohn, imported from the USA, Join the Parade. You may not have heard of him, but you will undoubtedly know one of his early songs,"Walking in Memphis". We have both enjoyed listening to his albums over the years.

Bubblegum 'n' Fluff Resources

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Letter received from pupil

Karen Harbison dropped through the door today a wee selection of the thank you letters received from pupils following our Bubblegum 'n' Fluff Christmas event. They are priceless. They are also the finishing touch to a resource booklet we have produced for others to use should they wish to run Bubblegum 'n' Fluff themselves. 

We have created a full Resource Booklet with all the information needed to put on a similar event, and we hope others find it helpful. Copies will be available from us.

Fear not...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Govert Flinck - Angels and the Shepherds

Just before Christmas there was a lot of chatter about comments the Pope made in his pre-Christmas address when he seemed to imply that same-sex relationships are as dangerous to the future of humanity as global warming. Giles Fraser had a challenging piece yesterday on the subject which he titled Peace, goodwill and gender politics. His opening makes you sit up:

The Christmas angel tells us: "Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people." The pope, on the other hand, has been using this Christmas season to spread entirely the opposite message, a message of fear and exclusion that seems more bad news than good.

The long table

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Christmas Dinner in Glasgow

Following a long Johnston tradition of having our Christmas dinner on Boxing Day (which began in my childhood as we spent all day at church not returning home until late afternoon when we finally got to open our pressies!), we celebrated with the traditional turkey dinner today and managed to fit eight adults and seven children around the table at my parents', with a borrowed church table from Wellington church to boost the length! This will be the last time we celebrate this meal here as my folks are moving in the New Year... the end of an era, it feels like.

Goodbye Mr Kettle

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Tassimo Coffee Machine

I love coffee, and have been experimenting with this gadget I received for Christmas! As a family we recently visited the Wishart family for lunch. Bill & Erica and their crew are currently in Paisley, but used to be much nearer to home when Bill was deacon in Hillhouse Parish Church.

After trying a few different coffees on Bill's machine I was intrigued and suggested the Tassimo as a gift idea to my family! Now I am hooked... it does all kinds of different coffees, teas, hot chocolate, you name it. While it is not really much good for large groups when the big old cafetière will still be called into use, it is very good for a quick cup - and I really mean quick. 30 seconds and it is ready!

Now all I need to do is to try to persuade them to produce a fair-trade coffee for the machine... Tassimo users of the world unite! We demand fair-trade!! 

Hallelujah, revised...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

While I was down in Lanark getting the lights sorted out, I picked up a new version of the song Hallelujah written by Philip Fox to be used for their Watchnight service. Too good to be true, I thought, having just posted on this blog about the song!! We'll be singing it too, I thought to myself!

So here you go, a true Christmas version of the song, Hallelujah:

What did you do on Christmas eve?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Light Controller

So... what did you do on Christmas eve? Last minute shopping? Visiting relatives? Wrapping presents?

Such is the strange world of a minister that I spent most of the day with a friend, Bryan, putting together a lighting system, resoldering wires, adding plugs and so on, so that we have proper illumination for the puppets at tonight's Watchnight Service. We were rehearsing last night and I realised that we needed lights!

A green church

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Bankfoot Church, Perthshire

Following a devastating fire that left their old parish church in ruins (sound similar?!), the folks in the congregation at Bankfoot in Perthshire are now enjoying a new church building and resource for the community. One of the great talking points of this new building is its green credentials.


Written by Peter Johnston on .

There's no contest this year in the No 1 single stakes for Christmas here in the UK. Alexandra Burke, winner of X-Factor, has it cold. Her winning rendition of the song Hallelujah is at the top of the charts. But, it is not alone. The number two single is also a version of Leonard Cohen's wonderful song, this time sung by the charismatic and much-missed Jeff Buckley. 

For your enjoyment, this post has a few of my favourite variations on this song.

Christmas cookies

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Homemade Christmas Cookies

It not being a busy week or anything(!), we had a bunch of friends of Sophia and Katherine over this afternoon for a Christmas party of arts and crafts. They all had a great time making their own Christmas cards, tree ornaments, clothes-peg angels and, just in case they had not had enough of a sugar rush... Christmas cookies! Nice!

All power to Carolyn for the amount of preparation that goes into these afternoons is considerable. 

Ups and Downs

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Denby Harelequin

After singing the praises of ebay in this post, I am grinding my teeth (well pretending too, anyway, after dentistry work this week my teeth are still a little sensitive!) as I missed out on a great deal by a whopping 44p. Aarrgghh! I came home early from the tea after the joint churches carol service, which went very well courtesy of Steve Younger and Fiona Wilson, in order to bid on the above collection of Denby and just, just missed getting the highest bid. Such deflation!

Carolyn and I, not long after getting married started buying up this Denby set as we really like it. However, it has now been out of production for a number of years and, of course, our numbers of plates and bowls is fast diminishing as they get dropped onto the tiled kitchen floor.