Monday, December 28, 2009


Thought for the Day

There’s a time after Christmas when we all start thinking about “business as usual”. It may not be yet. Frankly, you might even resent being reminded about it.

So what was it brought you down with a bump this season?

Family relationships? Ensuring transport for family members in the midst of all of this snow and ice? A stray thought or two about what you’d actually spent over the last month and what the credit card bill’s going to look like? The attempted bombing aboard an aircraft coming in to land in Detroit or maybe some other news item which reminded you that the world hasn’t changed all that much just because it’s Christmas?

All this reality gets in the way of a holiday, doesn’t it? A bit of sacred space for some of us, a few days of rest and relaxation for others.

Nobody in the Christmas story appears to be on holiday, though, do they? Funny that. Mary and Joseph are working to a tax deadline. King Herod is keeping order in his kingdom and preserving his place in the pecking order. Shepherds watching their flocks on Judean hillsides – they were on-call as usual. And let’s not forget the Wise Men: As strange and enigmatic as their job might have been, even they appear to have been on duty.

It wasn’t a holiday for any of any of them. We’re the ones who’ve made it a holiday. The Son of God was born into a busy world and the key for us is to maintain the link between that Story – with its message of hope and God’s good will towards humanity - with the person we usually are and not the person we are when we’re on holiday.

We’re people who slave away and make decisions affecting others. We’re charged with the nurture of children. We buy and sell. We make products, tighten bolts and run offices. We try to get the best deal we can. It’s that world which all this Christmas stuff has something to do with and not simply the family sitting around the front room playing charades.

And so maybe it’s not over when we find ourselves back to work today or in a day or two. Maybe it’s just beginning.

The audio is available for a limited time HERE. TFTD begins at 1:23.15 - a little more than halfway along the audio bar

Friday, December 18, 2009

Crystal Clear Atheism

An interesting (tho' fairly long) article about an evening spent at a fundraising evening for the Atheist Alliance International.
The biggest security guard I’ve ever seen in my life–this guy could work for Blackwater, and he’s got the coiled listening device spilling out of his left ear to prove it–has parked his burly self squarely in front of me, making it clear that I’d best slink back against the wall while the Rock Star of Atheism makes her entrance and a hundred entranced admirers take a collective breath, not quite believing they’re in her presence.
The whole article, entitled Joe Bob Biggs Parties with the Atheists repays the time spend reading it. Quite entertaining. Good quotes throughout about the new, more militant face of atheism:
Christopher Hitchens was an amusement of a different sort–first because he didn’t show up for his speech and several people had to go looking for him (“Check the bar!”), then because his thrown-together 19-minute talk was peppered with hysterical invective, as he described the “moon-faced Baptist preachers” and “smug smarmy rabbis” and “ghouls from Islamic organizations” he’d been forced to debate during the past year. Hitchens says most of them try to argue from some morally superior position, as though religion itself benefits society. “And yet there is this property of the supernatural–it attacks us in our core, despoils our sexuality, it is a source of misery, guilt, shame and immorality. And so my suggestion to you, when you encounter these people, is to say this: your antagonist has to make a moral statement that could not be made by a non-believer. Actually one was posted on my website. ‘Love your enemies.’ I don’t think that’s a moral statement. It’s immoral to say you love them.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What a good article in yesterday's Telegraph
by Christopher Howse!

Today, what we wear is ugly, though the meanest medieval labourer wore hand-made clothes. We can't name the stars, except the ones we see on TV. We can read, but can't be bothered to. We save time by driving, only to lose it by slumping on the sofa. We can't sing, can't dance, can't paint and can't drink politely in company. Yet we have the childish gall to patronise past centuries as inferiors.

Friday, December 04, 2009

It's the 100th Anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens today and they're playing Boston tonight and I wish I was back home watching the game.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thought for the Day

Where has the time gone? With Christmas a little over three weeks away it’s what we’re wondering. Has it been a year? Look at those children – they’ve grown up! Where has the time gone?

Time doesn’t actually go anywhere, does it? When we were small, time simply passed slowly. It took forever. We’re grown up now and it’s picked up tempo.

Should I worry about time doing that “other thing” (which time is also said to do) which is to “run out”?

Whether it goes, whether it passes or whether it runs somewhere you could drive yourself nuts trying to catch it or slow it down.

There’s no shame in occupying our portion of it and being satisfied with that. Grander people than us have seen their time come and go.

I have this picture in my mind of a Christmas gathering when I was small and my great-grandfather was still alive, up at the head of the table fiddling with his hearing aid which was squawking and squealing.

I’d have been six or seven. It was a timeless moment. Grandfather sat at the head of a table of busy young people who, for a single evening, were gathered together and it must have seemed timeless to him too.

Temporary, of course: We’d have all been back to business as usual given a few days
but for that moment the family was complete and together.

Time does something else too.

Those saints who were given to having visions knew it. When our first child is born we experience a piece of it. When love is expressed between people, or when words are written, spoken or sung which are beautiful and resound deeply within the human soul we feel it:

Don’t we say, in those moments, that ‘time stands still’.

Time stands still in the presence of the most important things. That we are there and participating in that moment is more than enough – it chases away the fear we have of being insignificant – not because we’ve grown bigger in any way ourselves,

but because we become part of it, part of what is meaningful or maybe even eternal.

Audio available for a limited time HERE. TFTD begins at 1:21.34 on the audio bar

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thought for the Day

Advent begins this Sunday with all its anticipation and waiting.

We all want to know what’s coming our way.

To this end we keep our ear to the ground, we read the papers, we listen to office gossip. What’s on its way may be good. It may be bad. The future is filled with the possibility of promise or judgement. Or a bit of both.

It’s that official looking envelope which comes through the post that we’re half scared to open.

We’re all for promise. But what about judgment? The last time we were caught short and had our performance or motivations criticized it hurt like hell. We’d pop into a side room before we entered into one of those conversations willingly – to find out that someone had a bone to pick with us, or that they needed to tell us something which required that we sat down first or had a witness present – that we’d been hurtful or destructive or that we just didn’t get what the point of our job was or our marriage vows or our priorities.

“A word in your ear please?”

“Uh, no, maybe later….”

There is a place, though, where promises and judgement intersect. The promise of anything new threatens what’s old and obsolete and quite comfortable. We get used to certain ways of life even if they’re way below par and we stagnate - as my grandfather used to say: “It may be an ugly dog but it’s my dog”.

And if the bottom were to fall out and we were apprised of our faults, what then?

Well, sir, everybody would know where they stood and there would be pieces to be picked up and the possibility of breathing in air which has finally been cleared.

Promise and threat sometimes begin to look like each other.

So that’s not really the choice we have. It’s a choice between judgment-and-promise on one hand or staying exactly the same - with our secrets untold and our promise unfulfilled.

In the worst case scenario the future is filled with the same damned thing repeating itself endlessly.

And surely in a season of anticipation, anything would be better than that.


Audio is HERE for a limited time. TFTD begins at 1.19.57 on the audio bar

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Always the Celebrant, never the bride!

I know it was their day and everybody should pay attention to them and all that but what about me? Why does everybody forget the poor vicar? Spend all those years learning Greek and putting up with grumpy old ladies and filling in Annual Statistics forms and once the wedding's over the celebrant gets forgotten! It's not fair, I tell you, not fair!

Lutheran Airlines

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Okay - so it's now dawning on me that my two essays must now be written. I must get over the unhelpful fantasy that a blank page is somehow 'nicer' and 'fresher' than one filled with characters.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

There was this other person a while back who looked quite a lot like me 'cept that this guy had rather a lot of time on his hands.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Time for the details

We're lucky in Edinburgh to have a few Titians 'hanging about' in the free part of the National Gallery of Scotland. For those of you who are connaisseurs of 'healthy women' but have no Reubenses right at hand, Titian will do in a pinch.

One of my favourite paintings is the one shown above - The Three Ages of Man - which I was looking at on Friday when I had a spare half-hour. On the right hand side are the infants - largely unaware of their surroundings and producing much fluid and little language. At the left you'll find the youth - "struck" and fixed as he is by the object of his desire. Finally, at the back, is the old man - senile and decrepit - slogging through his obsession with what is past and dreading what is yet to come.

Art is not always prescriptive of reality, though. There's more to life than being caught in a series of bottomless pits of self-absorption. My father's last two posts are a testament to the degree to which the last age of man can be a time of attention. With a certain amount of Adam's Curse laid to one side, space is made for one's attention to fill in - notice is taken finally of small things.

If we do, in fact, follow our fathers then the future bodes well for me.

I shall begin paying attention to the small things I'd missed.

My wife, I think, will appreciate that.

Fear and Surprise!

Back in the Diocese of Montreal it was always easier to marry two divorced Presbyterians in an Anglican Church than it was to perform the service for Roman Catholics where one party or both had been divorced. As was the case of all remarriages of divorced people, an application had to go before the Bishop and the Matrimonial Commission. With Roman Catholic applicants, however, there were additional concerns about "not alienating" a couple from their own Church. At least that's how it was explained to us at the time.

As Rector of a parish, you were left to deal with most things in the parish as you saw fit (within reason) and it always seemed a little 'out-of-keeping' that as much muscle and as as clear an interdiction was applied to this particular process. After all, nobody was worried about alientating the Baptists or the Dutch Reformed from their particular ecclesial bodies - who also disapproved heartily of divorce and remarriage.

As a young priest with lurid powers of imagination, I always figured that the Cardinal had gotten the Bishops' arms up behind their back at some point - but the groundwork of the explanation made a certain amount of sense:

"We are in the midst of a number of ecumenical discussions with Roman Catholics through ARCIC. Look - we've produced a document called Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry - we'll send you a copy in the post. We're getting close - real close - Authority next, then the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the meantime we'll try real hard not to stir the pot with our Cousins down the road."

Some of it didn't resonate with our immediate context. The Island of Montreal, itself, was not a hotbed of Ecumenism, nor was the military chaplaincy in the Canadian Forces where separate tents were required for religious services in the field and Anglican chaplains were by definition Chaplains(P) and lumped together with Presbyterian separatists with bad haircuts who preferred to call themselves l'Eglise Reformee du Quebec while our erstwhile cousins - Chaplains (RC) - met in other conclaves at conferences.

But, then again, there was the Diocese of Joliette. When I was the Rector of St Margaret's Mascouche I was friendly with the local RC priest. The clergy of the Diocese of Joliette were mostly Clercs de St Viateur - they were very creative, integrated and open and the Bishop took pity, at least on this particular Anglican, and I found myself included in all sorts of local clergy conferences for the priests of that Diocese. While not 'quite' sharing altars, it was the case that the emergency contact in my absence was Fr Bernard and in his absence it was me.

So the whole 'cousin thing' depended largely on which square kilometre of territory you happened to live in.

So let's turn to the candidates for 'inclusion': Brother Stephen (himself a 'convert') has listed the various 'types' of disaffected Anglicans and explains which three of these five 'types' might take up Benny's offer. There are the Prayer Book Catholics such as those found at St Thomas' Toronto (always grateful for Canadian content in the Christian blogosphere) and of course the Walsingham crowd - the Modern Catholics - who, according to Brother Stephen, make up the majority in Forward in Faith. There are then, finally, the Missal Catholics, and the example given comes from here in Scotland and I'll embed the video at the bottom of the post just because it's the sort of thing which 'speaks for itself' in terms of the Gospel horizon Rome might reasonably expect from such a tradition when 400,000 of them descend on St Peter's Square looking to have scratched what has made them itch.

Or fewer, perhaps, than 400,000. Take away as many zeros as you like.

Folks like this are, granted, a little more numerous than, say, British Israelites, but they will have approximately the same long term influence on the Christiian gene pool. They are not a force to be reckoned with, although I suspect that the points they've added which make up the collection of planes and surfaces within the Anglican tradition has given them more influence than they'll ever enjoy once they've joined 'Aunty'.

It would be an act of friendship on our part, with respect to the progressive Roman Catholics we have worked in partnership with over the last thirty years, to bitch and bellyache about this tactless invitation to our "disaffected" to come home to Rome. We should bitch effectively with an eye to getting a face-saving retraction.

A second statement could be issued which 'clarifies' what had obviously required closer scrutiny by some fictive underling who could then be said to be languishing in chains in the basement of the Vatican where it is expected he will be severely dealt with.

Let's face it - the Roman Catholic Church needs an infusion of waddling anachronisms in birettas like it needs a plague of Cane Toads.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Robert Alter on R. Crumb
....Perhaps the most winning aspect of Crumb’s Genesis is its inventive playfulness. He is keenly aware that many bizarre things happen in these stories, first in the primeval history because of its legendary character and then in the patriarchal narrative because of the writers’ deep interest in what is odd, paradoxical, and surprising in human behavior and in divine intervention......
I don't own a copy of Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses, but his book The Art of Biblical Narrative was required reading for at least two courses which I took in seminary. Alter teaches Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley and it is his translation of Genesis which R. Crumb has used, more or less completely, in his Illustrated Book of Genesis (which should be arriving in my mailbox on Monday in time for me to bring it up to the Edinburgh clergy conference the following week in Pitlochry).

Robert Alter has written a review of Crumb's latest contribution. It appeared in the New Republic last week and can be found HERE.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The sort of news you see when you get up really early and flip through a few of your favourite church-related websites:

Ruth Gledhill has "Pope challenges bankers to adopt Catholic Ethics" which I guess is fine and good if the location is Venice or Florence and the Catholic Ethics in play are those of the Medicis and the Borgias. Wouldn't be much of a stretch, really. They're halfway there.

And speaking of "Catholic" and "adopt", it seems that the nice man from Forward in Faith is saying that a Diocese in Papua New Guinea is the "obvious choice" to be the first to request inclusion in this new Anglican Use Rite which the Pope is proposing for disaffected Anglicans.

One thing I'll say for disaffected Anglicans - they do get around. There really is no spot on the globe which they won't invoke, provoke or "mess with" in order to get back at the person living around the corner from them who they used to have lunch with.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How can you not be enthused
by this?

I have just pre-ordered two copies of R. Crumb's illustrated Book of Genesis. Raspberry Rabbit being a rather small furry creature in the world of online Anglican personages, I don't get sent advance copies for review like that nice Bishop chap down in Blighty who always has that earnest air about him. I have to wait. As do you.

I used to sell the Georgia Straight on the streetcorner in Victoria and Vancouver back in the very early seventies - back around the time Jim Morrison died - back in the days when the Georgia Straight was an honest-to-goodness underground newspaper. Back in the days when my fellow Junior High School students walked out of school to protest the testing of a nuclear device on the Aleutians and got together and occupied an abandoned bit of University Endowment Land until the Saanich Police arrived and we all had to scatter and then walk back to school looking innocent.

The good old days.

Robert Crumb's women were right out of the Louvre and, being far too young at the time to have seen many (any) women in a state of undress, Crumb's facsimile thereof had to suffice. I've since discovered that not all women have really thick ankles.

A recent article in the Telegraph about Crumb's illustrated version of Genesis consisted of all the predictable boilerplate you'd have expected and included, of course, that obligatory telephone call to anyone who fit the caricature of the media-unfriendly "christian" lobbyist for whom "lip pursing" is considered a charism and, in lieu of genuine holiness, outrage will do in a pinch.

Now that they've gone out of their way to find him, the headlines can "accurately relate" how cross we all are here in Jesus-land that our Holy Book has been illustrated with tits.

The cumulative reaction from most Christian circles (among others) is actually not anger or disquiet - quite the opposite, in fact. Many of us are aging fans of Fritz the Cat who needed work and so slapped on a clerical collar and learned Greek and we can hardly wait to get our hands on a copy.

So what would you want in its stead? The Church of England? Soft floppy people reading a Book which contains scads of PG 13 sex, violence and nakedness though you'd never know it from the way it's read from the lectern in a stained glass voice?

Nah, give me something that I have to pass around in brown paper wrappers. Give me something my 12 year old stepson has to discover while fishing around in my office for a forgotten package of Tic Tacs and then pretend that he hasn't been reading.

Bishop Nick has a bit about it HERE. Church Mouse la-bas. New York Times HERE. New Yorker talks about the research which went into the artwork HERE. Article in the Jewish Daily Forward HERE. A few notes on the translation which Crumb uses HERE

Monday, October 19, 2009


Ever since I young, I have had very intense dreams in which I was able to fly.

Effortlessly, by putting out my arms and pushing off with my feet, I have been able to soar above rivers and roads and mountains.

This video, posted on Facebook by my sister Ruth, is the closest thing to the type of flying which I am able to do when I'm asleep. Somehow I can't help believing that I would actually be able to do it were push to come to shove.

When I die, God is gonna let me fly like this for real!

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Good Audio Alert!

BBC 4's Runaway Train brings together the original radio conversations with Wesley McDonald, alone in the engine of a runaway train in New Brunswick in 1987, with interviews of those involved in the incident.

A thrilling listen online until the 24th of October. You'll want a cup of tea.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Night Greek Word
Courtesy of Liddell and Scott


A. unitiated in Bacchic orgies: generally, joyless

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Text Messaging Versus Morse Code

Morse Code Vs. SMS

Christophor|MySpace Videos

In honour of my grandfather, James Earle Warren, was was the fastest Morse Telegraphers of his day in the Province of Saskatchewan.

Bit of background on the Morse Telegraph in Canada during WWII.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Back to the books!

As the regular readers of Raspberry Rabbit might have noticed (that's all four of you), I've not been around for quite a while.

I will have been ordained a priest 25 years this coming June and in that time I've never had a sabbatical or undertaken any serious continuing education.

I suspect that I was beginning to turn into a one trick pony.

That is now changing. Both for myself and for whatever series of congregations will need to endure me over the next twenty years I decided that it was time to hit the books again.

I've enrolled in a part-time MTh at New College, Edinburgh, which is part of the University of Edinburgh and I am finding it a bit of a challenge in the first few weeks. I've slogged through a bit of Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas and Hans Urs Von Balthasar so far and a series of articles about Theology and Media. This week is devoted to coming up with essay topics.

More later!

Be Green with Envy, Brits and Americans!

The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, may not have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but he has appeared on the stage of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa with Yo Yo Ma. Our rather Aspergic Prime Minister can sing (sort of) and his ratings have apparently soared. The leader of the Opposition, Michael Ignatieff has tried to cash in on the event and it....doesn't work really

So my question to you is - what would Gordon Brown or Obama sing and with whom?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Handed over to Jesus, today.....

...are two of my friends facing very different kinds of necessity in Africa. One is, of course, our brother-in-Christ Kenny Macaulay, a delightful rogue who also happens to be the Rector of St Augustine's Church in Dumbarton (just west of the nice and civilized part of Scotland where Mrs Rabbit and I live). Kenny is off to the Gambia to try and negotiate with a local landlord who owns the property presently occupied by the Dumbarton/London Corner nursery school which the folks in Dumbarton underwrite pretty well in its entirety. Several thousand pounds have been spent upgrading a delapidated property in the poorest part of the town and the lease is up. The landlord sees the opportunity of reclaiming a much improved property and the education of some 90 small children hangs in the balance.

My daughter Hannah and I were with Kenny and his wife in the Gambia a couple of years back and had the opportunity to see the school up close. It's a great piece of mission work. It is based on the local committment of a Scottish town - in large part the committment of the Episcopal congregation but gets broad local support in the town as well. Kenny keeps Standing Order forms on his person at most times and pretty well everybody he meets ends up being hit for £5 a month. The story of how Kenny got involved in this mission is pretty well explained HERE on his blog. The outreach in question is also collaborative in that there is a local committee in Serrekunda which recommends children whose families are clearly unable to afford the school fees. Finally, through the help of an organization called Gambia Tourist Support, they are able to channel money (upwards of £1200 a month) into a country, where graft and chaos are not unknown, in such a way that the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the individual donors need have no concerns. Money sent in for the school gets to the school and the school is able to pay its bills.

I phoned Kenny on his mobile today thinking that he was still in the UK only to hear a different ring tone before he answered. There were car horns tooting in the background and the sound of Kenny leaning out the window and yelling 'Bugger off' so it was clear that he was already driving through either Banjul or Serrekunda. In an understandably short phone conversation Kenny told me that while the negotiations are going to be an uphill climb with a fairly intransigent landlord, he plans to be there for a week and thinks that some agreement can be reached.

The second case is a different kettle of fish. Mark and Val are good friends of the Reverend and Mrs Rabbit - they've not been married that long and have a tiny baby boy named Josh. Mark is a ships engineer and regularly gets flown around the world to join ships and fix their massive engines. The paper work for his trips - visas and joining instructions - is done by the agency which sends him there. This time they neglected to get him a visa for the particular African country (to be named later but well known to Anglicans) the ship sailed into while the engine was being repaired. They're upriver now - loading or unloading - and the agency decided that the most convenient thing to do would be to simply leave him off the crew list and for him to stay 'below decks' which makes him technically a stowaway and at the mercy of whatever local official decides to inspect the ship.

Added to this is the fact that (sods law being well and truly at work this week) the ship keeps running into the sorts of difficulties which might invite local officials aboard - today it was the local mafioso storming the captain's cabin armed with a machete. The problem was dealt with by the "six foot six ape of a bosun" - a bad tempered Russian - who simply heaved the local thug over the side of the ship and left him to swim the short distance to the river bank and climb out. No doubt the Russian equivalent to "Bugger off" came up at some point in the altercation. Mark missed all the fun. He was below decks in what he calls his 'hidey hole'. Mark has a mobile phone and keeps updating his Facebook page. His wife, at home with a tiny baby, is somewhat unhappy with the situation.

So keep Kenny and Mark in your prayers today. Two lads far from home trying to do good work in difficult circumstances.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thought for the Day

Fields of barley are now being cut - with combine harvesters out in the fields late into the evening. The wet summer created sodden fields but, with the tops of the Beech trees starting to change colour, we suddenly have reasonable weather.

Climbing the crest of the hill towards Perth, recently, I noticed all the white fields in the distance. Lots of people have taken a calculated risk and planted barley. They may find their crop fed into distilleries and breweries for top dollar or…. happy farm animals may end up chowing-down on top grade barley sold at bargain prices because there's too much of it around.

Good skills and livelihoods are at risk.

We're moving into Autumn now, with yellows and ochre tones in the ascendant. Plant life is mature – heavy headed, rich and filled with promise. Other generations regarded this time as the crowning glory of the year – not merely the harbinger of winter.

For Episcopal clergy in the Diocese of Edinburgh, November brings our annual Conference in Pitlochry - the forest there in stunning Autumn array. Many of us are in our 50's. We were trained by clergy who were around at the end of the 2nd World War who were themselves trained by the generation that saw the men going off to the 1st.

Quite a chain of experience.

We arrive with our little suitcases and mixed success in our congregations – some "gathering in" growing numbers on Sunday mornings – some in churches where growth has been a challenge. Our skills aren't always valued or understood in the way we might hope –the retelling of Sacred Stories and the proclaiming of hope based on events which took place long ago. Prayer beside hospital beds, school assemblies, timely conversations in village precincts.

What would our forebears have to say?

They'd probably take issue with how we do things.

But they would remind us, at the same time that, like the farmer, we are not completely in charge of how things work out.

We ply our trade in hope and faith and not in complete certainty.

Audio available HERE for a limited time
TFTD begins at 1:22.05 on the audio bar

Thursday, September 10, 2009

These kids are obviously having a lot more fun in their N.T. Greek class than I remember having back at McGill in the 80's.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Thought for the Day

One of my parishioners showed up for Mass yesterday in his brand new Morris Minor. Brand new, that is, to him. A funny little car - he’s obviously quite taken with it.

His two children seated in the back as they turned into Chapel Brae had what could best be described as a ‘quizzical’ expression on their faces – proud to be riding in Dad’s new car but worried their school chums might catch a glimpse of them.

This next few weeks marks the 40th anniversary of the break-up of the Beatles – Paul McCartney making plans for the future but John Lennon wanting out. George Harrison salvaging some of his own songs for his first solo album – one of them with a chorus line cribbed from the Buddha - “All things must pass – all things must pass away”

There are certain songs, smells and places – stemming from the experience of particular decades - when I’m surrounded by them, for an instant, I am 21 years old again. Young, slim and quick-tongued, although a bit stupid and shallow. I remember the first bit but not the second.

Nostalgia has its highest moment in an appreciation of what is good and what, in its age, was needed to hit the nail on the head – the utility of the thing, the integrity of the idea and its ability to carry people along with it.

Once Eddie had parked his Morris Minor in the lane perhaps with a large stone under its back tyre to keep it from rolling down the hill we gathered together, members of a village church, young and old, optimists and cynics, for the baptism of a baby girl wearing an old family christening dress.

The traffic rumbled down the A702 and the windows in the church rattled.

If you’d been with us, yesterday, you’d have heard ancient words and prayers lifting up a life which was young and newly formed. We recited traditional promises and invoked the Spirit of God over the water – believing, as we do - that on such old foundations God brings forth the new and the unexpected.

audio available HERE for a limited time.
TFTD begins at 1:22.48 on the audio bar

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Uh, no. I can't help you with your cross stitch!

Thees ees somebody else.
Raspberry Rabbits - Raspberry Rabbit!
Don't even sound same!

Then there's these folks who are clearly neither Scottish or Canadian. Our interests may not be identical. I don't know what they're saying and can take no responsibility if they fail to exercise the caution and charity so typical of my little blog.

Raspberry Rabbit is suddenly becoming a crowded place. Having been Raspberry Rabbit since 1993 on the Anglican-L email list surely I must have some sort of grandfather rights to the name.

Sand Animation

Many thanks to Malcolm+ over at Simple Massing Priest for this. I gather it comes from some sort of talent show in the Ukraine (Ukraine's Got Talent) or somesuch. Malcolm included the video as part of a prayer request for his wife who is off visiting her very ill Ukrainian grandmother.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quotes that give one pause....
"Mr. Harper's visit was intended to display Canada's military might for a domestic audience grown skeptical about the slow implementation of long-standing Arctic promises, as well as to showcase Canada's resolve to international rivals such as Russia."
I found myself looking at this sentence from an article in the Globe and Mail two or three times, trying to figure out why my head was cocked to one side like the RCA Victor dog.

Platitudes, Bromides
and Thought-Terminating Clichés

A site called "Platitude of the Day" pokes daily fun whichever poor sod has done his ' bit' on Radio 4's Thought for the Day.

Scores would normally be expected to range from a 2/5 for 'slightly platitudinous' to 4/5 for 'highly platitudinous'. There are a few which garner a score of 5/5 for 'thoroughly platitudinous' or 1/5 for 'actually not bad' or 0/5 for 'Dammit I gotta start going to Mass again' (well no not really but 'hope springs eternal').

Criticism of the very existence of Thought for the Day on a public radio station is not unknown even though the slot is surprisingly well defended.

Mercifully the eagle eye of the site's author has not yet reached the howling wastes of Alba. It would take considerable effort to go through the whole episode of Good Morning Scotland on "Listen Again" and the Chief Imp at Platitude of the Day has better things to do with his time. Those north of the border have been spared.

The site is not devoted to improving the quality of Thought for the Day on Radio 4. There's a grudge in place from the outset that "religious' people" have a monopoly on this broadcasting slot and that the "There's quite possibily not much of a god, really" crowd aren't getting equal billing.

Nonetheless - there's a mission here ready to be taken on by somebody because platitudes are not unknown when it comes to mainstream religious contributions on the radio. Come to think of it they're not unknown in other places where clergy fiddle through a sheaf of papers and begin with a slight throat-clearing Ahem.

The Wikipedia definition for "Platitude" reads as follows:
A platitude is a trite, meaningless, biased, or prosaic statement that is presented as if it were significant and original. The word derives from plat, the French word for "flat." ........used as a pejorative term to describe seemingly profound statements that a certain person views as unoriginal or shallow.
for "Bromide" you have the following:
"A bromide is a figure of speech referring to a phrase or person who uses such phrases that has been used and repeated so many times as to become either insincere in its meaning, or seem like an attempt at trying to explain the obvious. It can also mean the unnecessary insertion of an (often irrelevant) cliché into a conversation, designed to make the speaker sound more authoritative."
It goes on to add:
The term derives from the former use of certain bromide salts (sodium bromide and potassium bromide) in medicine as mild tranquilizers and sedatives. ...... The literary usage of "Bromide" is meant to humorously imply a boring statement with similar sleep-inducing properties.
I read that and I want to get up and say 'Yes - I do that sometimes! In the pulpit and in school assemblies and into the microphone. Do I win the T-shirt?'

Well I do - really. And when I'm reading over an old sermon or listening to a service which has been recorded I get a pain and I begin to fidget because on far too many occasions what I'm listening to is more or less shite and unworthy of the time I've put into it or the time the assembled throng have dedicated to listening to it.

I don't think presenters do this because they've a hankering to write shite but because they understand, somehow, or have been convinced or are deluded that that the context requires something more 'toned down' than what they are otherwise inclined to say or write.

In this they probably err. While there is little appetite for pulpit moralizing and tremendous constraints upon any sort of religious polemic, nobody is going to shut the door on an able presenter who can spark a little kerygma in the form of story or personal reflection.

It can be done. Sometimes it's done very well. Not by firing one's arrows into the constantly narrowing public space which is begrudged us - like some corner of a foreign field. Which is forever England - but by taking stock of the privilege and opportunity these gigs represent.

There's nothing in the process of production which necessitates the creation of platitudes. I reckon it's much more about the dwindling confidence of religious presenters, their lack of playfulness and their unwillingness to tell stories instead of taking positions. The door to creative presentations of love, grace and opportunity is, I think, rather open.

We are not still not used to working with the permission of others.

With the Radio 4 gang you eventually get to the point of hearing a particular presenter being introduced and you turn up your radio because this particular one is different. They don't drone on. They're not boring and formulaic. This one usually has something to say.

You suspect, as well, that others are turning their radios up as well.

So, keeping in mind that POTD has a particular axe to grind and purely as a matter of interest, what would the Chief Wonk at Platitude of the Day believe a platitude to be or not be?

Here's one by the Rev'd Angela Tilbey (Vicar of St Benet's, Cambridge and avid TV fan) that earns itself the moniker 'Not Platitudinous' and here's another one of the same, written by Rhidian Brook (writer, celebrity and Christian) which is also judged to be 0/5 - 'Not Platitudinous'

On the other end of the scale you'll find those offerings judged by POTD to be extraordinarily platitudinous. Here's one by Joel Edwards - who recently stepped down as head of the Evangelical Alliance and is now the Executive Director of the Micah Challenge. Here's another extraordinarily platitudinous one by the Rev'd Dr Alan Billings who's billed as a mere Anglican priest.

I happened upon another definition which I'd never heard of before: that of the Thought Terminating Cliché

A thought terminating cliché s a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissention or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.

I hope I don't use those. I don't think so.

I think that in my early days I may have had some T-shirts with a few of those printed on them.

Further reading on platitudes. An essay in their defense (in general terms - presumably not within a two minute slot on the radio!). From Australia. It can be found HERE (you'll need to click on the words 'Show Transcript')

...Schooled to avoid clichés, I simply could not find the appropriate words to acknowledge the awful tragedy in this woman's life. I stuttered and stumbled and finally said something stupid like, 'Gee that was bad, what happened to you...', then ground to a halt, as a look of pain and embarrassment crossed her face.

In retrospect, how much better would it have been for both of us if, at that moment, I'd simply reached for a soothing platitude? If I'd simply said, 'I'm so sorry for your loss', or, 'You have my deepest sympathy'?

Sometimes, you see, we actually need language to be well-worn and solemnly delivered. Sometimes a platitude need not sound insipid or insincere but is, instead, just what's required in a moment of deep emotion. To use a familiar phrase, a platitude can build a bridge over troubled waters....

....The great English journalist and philosopher G.K. Chesterton once wrote, 'Platitudes are there because they are true' - which almost sounds like a platitude itself! But he was definitely onto something because as the familiar words rolled off my tongue, at my grandmother's wake, I knew that what we were saying about her in our clichéd, unimaginative way was absolutely true. And with most of our energy going into coping with the sadness of grief, we simply didn't have enough left over to try and be sparklingly original in our use of language.

According to linguists, platitudes and clichés belong to the broad category of 'verbal cuddling strategies': language used to ease social interaction. Like euphemisms, they can be used to cover up unpleasant or awkward realities, or as tools for positively reframing our conception of negative situations.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thought for the Day

Children are trudging down the lane this week in new school trousers - with back-to-school faces on - at five minutes after eight. Churches are planning to restart Sunday School this weekend, get their choirs back on a practise schedule and publicise their Fall programmes.

You don’t always get a second chance at these things.

You start with a bang or you start with a whimper.

This year we are hoping to break some eggs, stir the pot and open the doors to the possibility of grace, wonder and progress. It’s going to be different this year.

A youngish deacon in the Scottish Episcopal Church is being ordained a priest this Saturday here in Edinburgh.

There he is – another generation waiting for the bell – starting out with great hopes and ambitions. This time it’ll be different

Now listen up: I don’t care if you push that same button for the tenth time. I don’t care. You’re doing what you need to do. In our case, at Church, when there are a hundred on a Sunday or fifty or even when it’s just two or three of us gathered in the Lord’s name - He promised to be in the midst of us even then.

And I don’t care if it’s the tenth time you’ve tried to get a conversation going with your husband or wife about a problem you’ve been avoiding – or whether you’ve already tried to reorient your life out of its negative spiral a dozen times without much success or that you’ve been to detox twice and lapsed twice. It doesn’t matter. The fact that you’re willing to do it again is evidence that the spark of life is still in you – and the possibility of success is no farther away

It’s part of the nature of life, when you look at it through a microscope. Even more so the nature of faith in people such as we are, listening to our radios this morning - we move – we get up again when we’re supposed to stay down.

It’s what we do. It’s who we are. We start again.

Audio is available HERE for a limited time.
TFTD begins at 1:24.23 on the audio bar

Saturday, August 22, 2009

If you've not heard the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Here's a Youtube flick for introduction and for those who want to hear a little more, a recent Music Feature on Radio 4. Enjoy!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A video has been circulating around again. It came out a year or so ago - long enough, in other words, to have spawned at least one parody.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A tourist couple set their camera up on a rock at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park to take a memorable holiday shot. Unfortunately, they had the scene stolen by a local Ground Squirrel who "popped up" just as the timer clicked over and took the shot.

The resulting photo has become one of those viral events. Everyone is making their own version of it. You can now make your own photo HERE

Were the natural range of the Columbian Ground Squirrel, at the end of the last Ice Age, to have extended to Scotland, for example, the recent General Synod might have looked like this

If you take the link (above) to the Crasher Squirrel Make Your Own Photo page you'll see where hundreds of people have turned their ordinary photographs into something remarkable and funny. The family depicted below has clearly decided that they've had enough of the "dull" and the "ordinary" so they decided that the addition of a random rodent would add something of interest.

Pause for Thought

Hunger: It was one of the first things we ever felt and one of the first things going on ‘within us’ that anybody else ever recognized.

A dis-ease inside.
An emptiness within us.
An ache

At some point our mothers must have said ‘I don’t know why he’s crying. He’s just after eating'.

Hungry people aren’t always the thin ones. You know that, don’t you?

Some of us are hungry even after we’ve eaten our fill. The hunger outstrips the meal in front of us.

Its not always a meal we’re hungry for, either.

We’re hungry for revenge or for company or in need of an avenue for our anger. We’re hungry to be told we’re the best or maybe we’d even give our right arm to be told that we were merely sufficient.

The hunger often outstrips the physical need. We try too hard, we’re told. We’ve become very hard work. There’s going to be trouble ahead. We’re starting to leave carnage in our wake because we’re suffering so from this insatiable hunger - from this thing gnawing within us. There’s a marriage to think about and children who depend on us. We’re up for a promotion at work and folks in the office are wondering whether we’re maybe a little too desperate and driven.

We might have known. Come to think of it, we did know - we’ve always known.

We wish we had a dime each time we’d slapped ourselves on the forehead and wondered why we’d said what we said – why we’d lost the rag - the way we did - in a public place.

We need to step back and review what we already know - ask what sort of hole it is we find in the centre of our being – while there’s time - what sort of emptiness – and what it is which drives us for good or ill.

And there is time. Our misfortunes don’t all happen to us by accident.

There are lessons to be learned and a more creative and ultimately a more ‘nourishing’ response to be discovered.

The audio is HERE for a limited time.
Pause for Thought begins at 1:12.54 on the audio bar

Saturday, August 15, 2009

This senior cleric appears not to be completely up to speed with the technical innovations available to the clergy nowadays

My daughter Hannah lives in Montreal. She thought that a having a dog would be a good idea.

This is the dog. His name is Major. Major is apparently still a puppy.

This is Major looking for any whales on the lake that he could eat.

What's wrong with a Jack Russell Terrier? This is not a dog this is a pony.

Pause for Thought

I’ve just come back from a two week trip to the Holy Land – a trip pretty evenly divided between time spent on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and time spent in the old city in Jerusalem with a few side trips here and there.

The Galilee was wonderful – thrilling – magical. I can shut my eyes and I am standing on the Mount of the Beatitudes looking down at the small stretch of shoreline on the north coast of the lake where so much of the Gospel story unfolds.

I’d been warned about Bethlehem and Jerusalem; warned by well-meaning colleagues and friends not to set myself up for disappointment – that there is an industry surrounding pilgrims like myself.

“Buy this olivewood rosary – buy these postcards – genuine Jordan water – genuine holy oil!”

I’d also been warned about the palpable hostility which was engrained in the place – the walls you drive by, the barbed wire, the universal presence of rifles slung over shoulders and handguns stuffed into belts.

This hostility extends to conflicts within all three major religions, as well and not merely between them. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem seems at times like a sort of board game with different teams occupying different parts of the same space.

I do not regret that somewhere along the line I developed the ability to ‘squint’ slightly and to conceive things as they once were or as they could be. It’s a skill learned in order to hold on to a deeper order of things even in the face of misadventure and disappointment.

It’s something necessary in order to believe in people even when they fail you – necessary even in order to believe in one’s self when the person staring back from the shaving mirror has proved to be less impressive than you once thought him to be.

As you walk through an old place which has been knocked down and rebuilt many times you reflect on the fact that human beings will generally get up again when they’ve been knocked down.

They’re got a vision in their heads which doesn’t correspond completely to the rubble which surrounds them.

Audio available HERE for a limited time
Pause for Thought begins at 0:22.03 on the audio bar

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Industrial action on the part of Royal Mail employees here in the UK has prompted the folks down at The Tablet to allow free online access to the entirety of this week's edition.

I read purloined, free or week-old copies of the Tablet more than I read it when I've actually gotten up on my hind legs and subscribed. Once I've gotten my own subscription they end up staying in their little plastic pouches and my wife complains about the expense.

She's Scottish. She notices these things. It's true what they say.

Two stories in this week's free and therefore infinitely juicier-than-normal Tablet speak to the power of rumour to damage and destroy. I've lived and worked in communities where rumours circulate. The communities I live and work in right now are actually quite free of this sort of sub rosa manipulation of the many by the few - something for which I find myself very thankful.

In the Tablet this week, as their main story, is a rumour quite intentionally circulated in order to provoke outrage and violence: that two pages of the Qu'ran were allegedly destroyed at at Christian wedding in the Eastern Punjab in Pakistan.

What, as part of the liturgy? After the rings but just before the declaration?

The resulting violence has claimed the lives of 8 people (six of them burnt alive) and many more injured. Property and livelihoods were destroyed and church buildings were razed to the ground.
I remember the first time I ever fired an old Lee Enfield .303 when I was about 16, marvelling at the sort of shoulder-kicking power which could be unleased by applying a couple of pounds of pressure to the trigger. This is that sort of story. The rumour-monger knows that it takes just a word or two and he's unleashed an earthquake. It happened just as he intended.

The second story seems a bit more pedestrian. It concerns an apology printed on the front page of a newspaper in New Brunswick, Canada with reference to what they'd printed on an earlier front page: that Stephen Harper the Prime Minister of Canada had gone to a Roman Catholic funeral and had slipped a wafer from Mass into his coat pocket.

Some outrage ensued. Damage was done.

What was he doing going up for Communion in the first place since he's not a Roman Catholic? Did he just get up when everyone else did and was he then given something and then did he not know what to do with it? Did he figure he'd pocket it and then give it to his PA, Sabrina, to deal with like he passes so many of his problems on to her?

Well sir, the whole thing apparently was hooey (see the article at the bottom of page 31)
According to Canada's CTV News, members of the opposition Liberal Party told the story of the Communion host to the Newspaper's publisher, who then passed the unverified allegation on to his editor.
At least in this latter case the retraction got the same coverage as the original story and the originators of the rumour have been identified - as should always happen in families and in congregations where rumours start. One needs to slavishly follow them back to the source and make people accountable for what they've whispered in alleys.

Notwithstanding a number of official apologies from governmental officials in Pakistan one assumes that the originator of the rumours there which have now cost lives and livelihoods will never be properly identified.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From the Herald today:

OUR story of the woman described as "East Ham" as she was "one stop short of Barking" reminds a Stirling reader of when a friend said his trousers were "a bit Cowdenbeath".

When he asked for elucidation, he was told: "There's no ballroom in Cowdenbeath."

Thank you Kenny