Archive for June, 2009

Michael Jackson

June 26, 2009

Another piece of shock news as Michael Jackson dies unexpectedly at what is a relatively young age of 50.  And of course we are all both horrified and fascinated by it, whether or not we were ever fans of him or his music.  These kind of unexpected twists, especially in relation to someone we all know about, highlight the tragic nature of our existence.  Because there is a Michael Jackson in us all.  A combination of being very public and very reclusive, wanting people to know and recognize us and yet wanting to have our own space.  And, like him, conflicted about our identities and with low points matching the highs.  The media are having a field day speculating about his health, his childhood, his mental state, his apparent loneliness, his talent, now tinged with a kind of wistful speculation as to what might have been had he lived longer.

It’s not quite another Princess Diana moment, but as with all celebrity lives and deaths these things hold up a mirror to ourselves, our own hopes and aspirations, and the reality of our struggles.  An opportunity to face up to the baggage we all inherit from childhood, and also to reflect on the contribution we can make to the wellbeing of those who come after us.  Whatever the truth about Michael Jackson’s lifestyle and health, his music will live on in the lives of his many fans.  Thanks for the memories.  RIP Michael Jackson – a ‘Rare Iconic Personality’.

Baptising bishops

June 24, 2009

It’s not very often that baptisms get into the tabloid press, though bishops quite often do – frequently for the wrong reasons.  But this story surely highlights both a growing trend for the baptism of adult converts, and also shows that a bit of spectacle can be a good thing in terms of getting into the news.  Maybe if more of church happened outside the four walls of church buildings, there would be more interest by the general public.  There’s something safe about being able to stand on a river bank to be part of worship, as compared with being trapped in pews or behind closed doors.  But then, John the Baptist knew all about that a long time ago.

Mission Shaped Ministry

June 19, 2009

This week saw the end of a long process to launch the Mission Shaped Ministry course in Scotland.  The course itself emerged out of the Fresh Expressions initiative of the Church of England and Methodists to encourage new forms of church – and it’s been successful way beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Scotland has had to wait a bit longer, but in September-October this year there will be a six-week taster (Mission Shaped Intro) in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and then starting in January 2010 the entire course will be presented in Glasgow and Inverness.  The church mice will be involved in Inverness, along with Duncan Macpheron, minister of Hilton Church, while the Glasgow course will be led by Alan McWilliam and David Currie.

Full details of all this later.  In the meantime, to sign up for the six week  Mission Shaped Intro in Edinburgh, email; and in Glasgow  It’s free!

Midsummer delights

June 17, 2009

We took a couple of days off this week, thinking that June might actually be summer in Scotland.  How wrong can you be!  It wasn’t just all four seasons in the proverbial 24 hours, but all four of them in the space of about 40 minutes.  The drive to Glasgow on Monday started in dull, though dry weather as we left rural Aberdeenhire, but by the time we were passing Stirling there was actually snow at the side of the road.  We had to look at least twice, but sure enough – not hailstones, but real snow.  Not to mention a sky as black as night and flooding all over the place.  Then just 15 minutes later, bright sunshine, which continued all the way to Glasgow and for the rest of the day.  Still, it was just as well that the main attraction was not outdoors.

And it was well worth travelling through fire and brimstone to be there!  The main attraction was a concert by The Priests, three Irish priests who’ve just shot to fame from nowhere in less than 12 months following the release of their first album last Christmas.  

priestsIn an obviously unscripted dialogue, their informal laid-back style of conversation throughout the concert was something else.  Fun, faith, spontaneity, and a lot of easy talk about God and the spiritual, not to mention their fantastic singing just made it a great occasion.  And where else would you find a concert where the most prominent projected icon is a cross?  And it wasn’t all a bunch of old grannies either: we sat next to a couple of twenty-something young women who must have been first in line to get there, and whose excitement at seeing The Priests in person was … well, infectious.

Next day we went to see an exhibition of Edvard Munch’s work, which (as we expected) evoked the exact opposite set of emotions, with his obsessions with failed love affairs, death and, of course, stress – most famously expressed in his painting The Scream

screamBut as well as that there are various versions of his Madonna on display, along with an intriguing portrait of Nietzsche, and a striking self-portrait.  The exhibition runs till September, and is free so well worth a visit if you like that sort of thing.

After that, a walk down the street to the Kelvingrove Gallery to take (yet another) look at Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, christ_of_saint_john_of_the_cross

and while we were viewing that we had an unexpected (and free) organ recital.

Of course, all this was interspersed with new conversations, about the meaning of life, faith, spirituality, theology … and how cool it would be to have The Priests as pastors.  And on the way home we called by this interesting studio.  A two day outing doing these things probably tells you something about us …

How fresh are ‘Fresh Expressions’?

June 10, 2009

One of the books we’re reading just now is this one, on Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition.  As its title suggests, and as Brian McLaren comments in a typical sound-bite, ‘the road to the future goes through the past’.

We’ll comment on the book and its contents once we’ve finished reading it, and had a chance to talk about it.  But the question of whether fresh expressions of church are really as fresh as we all think came to our attention with the recent death of the Revd Bill Shergold.  He’s not typically hailed as one of the heroes of either fresh expressions or emerging church, and quite likely most readers of this blog will be wondering who exactly he was and why we should be bothered to mark his passing.  After all, he was 89 when he died last month.  And he trained as a priest at Mirfield, a high church college if ever there was one.  And his most significant ministry was at the Eton Mission in London, with close connections with the posh school that gave it its name.  So you might think he would be about the last person to have pioneered anything remotely missional, let alone truly creative.  And you’d be wrong.  He was the founder of the 59 Club, a bikers community, which he started when he realized that here was a way of connecting faith with what at the time (the 1950s) was a growing recreational trend among young men in particular.  To read the story of how and why he did this, in his own words, go here.  He clearly thought he was just doing what came naturally, given his calling as a parish priest, and his efforts were not blessed with all the trendy terminology that seems an essential part of the emerging, emergent, fresh expressions scene today.  Which we all probably need to be reminded of: that there have always been mavericks and pioneers who saw missional openings in unlikely places and who stepped outside of the box in order to see where God might be at work.  Bill Shergold was one of them.  And at a time when Christians were far less tolerant of the non-traditional than they are today.  But then, he did, as a newspaper headline of the time says, wear ‘leathers under his cassock’ – which, obviously, means that he wore a cassock over his leathers.  When so many are preferring to dispose of cassocks and other bits of tradition, we might have something to learn from him.

A week is a long time …

June 7, 2009

This week has certainly been a long time for UK politicians, most notably Gordon Brown, who looks like being on his way out as prime minister.  He makes a lot of having been raised in a Church of Scotland manse, and his Presbyterian values and ‘moral compass’, though the point of all that is probably a bit lost on many people today, if for no other reason than they’ve heard it so many times now and it’s not altogether clear what it all amounts to.  What can in one context be tenacity and commitment can all too easily become stubbornness and aggression.  Ask any Presbyterian!  The ‘I’m right and you’re all wrong’ attitude has been the cause of many splits and schisms over the years (centuries even) not just in Presbyterian circles, but throughout Scottish churches more generally.  One thing we’re thinking about right now is whether this sort of righteousness is an inevitable outcome of a certain kind of theology, or whether that connection is secondary, and other factors such as personality type play a bigger role.  It’s certainly the case, in our experience anyway, that folks from other backgrounds seem to be a bit more laid back about things, not taking themselves too seriously, and more ready to know when they need to change.


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