Auldyin

When the oldest woman and the oldest dinosaur appear in the same news day it’s worth taking note.

Besse Cooper died peacefully on Tuesday afternoon in Monroe, east of Atlanta, Georgia, at the age of 116, (Besse Cooper, World’s Oldest Person dies, 2012. Sky News Online, online. Available at: http://news.sky.com/story/1020793/besse-cooper-worlds-oldest-person-dies [Accessed 5 December 2012].

The Nyasasaurus was declared the oldest and perhaps first dinosaur to ever walk the earth, 10-15 million years earlier than the former record holder of 230 million years, or thereabouts. (Nyasasaurus: Is It World’s Oldest Dinosaur, 2012. Sky News Online, online. Available at: http://news.sky.com/story/1020780/nyasasaurus-is-it-worlds-oldest-dinosaur [Accessed 5 December 2012]).

The bones of the dinosaur were discovered in 1930 in Africa’s Lake Nyasa (now called Lake Malawi) and brought to London’s Natural History Museum where they remained until the dinosaur guys realized they had something special on hand.

245 million years is a long time; but so is 116, or 100 years, or even 90. Besse would have outlived her husband(s), all her friends, perhaps her children or even grandchildren. She would have known countless griefs, and yet she kept on.

People who pass 90 and keep on going have always been wonderful to me. A friend of mine, Mr. P., announced at his 94th birthday that he wanted to reach 100, this in spite of the fact that he was living in the nursing home, quite frail and grieving each day for his late wife. Another friend, Mr. M., was already 100 and seemed content to look forward to 101. Sadly, both have died in the past year, gone on to their reward.

I have known many others, some much younger than my friends who say simply, “I’m ready to go.”

“What keeps you going?” I once asked Mr. P.

He was still quite sharp, but didn’t really have an answer to my question. I can only speculate that he just loved living, not a bad way to be, not bad at all.

As the first dinosaur it’s hard to imagine what the Nyasasaurus did every day. I suppose someone had to be first, but it must have been a lonely existence. No wonder it died out.

For Besse though, something else must have kept her going: love of life, love of others, love of chocolate? Maybe all three.

I suppose it will remain a mystery until I reach an age when I could reasonably be “ready to go.”

Until then I’ll try to take inspiration from Besse and others like her that life is worth living, every day the Lord sees fit to give us.

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A Scout is Reverent

The Scout Law ends with this one, the twelfth point. We Boy Scouts faithfully said we were reverent every week in the same breath that we said we were “courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful and thrifty, etc.” I’m not really sure how many of those qualities we could claim as our own. At eleven years old most of them were vocabulary words we hadn’t yet learned in school. They were just words.

The Scout Oath ends on a similar note, “I will do my best to do my duty to God and to the Queen…”

The Boy Scouts have in recent years been forced by the courts to think deeply about what constitutes reverence and “duty to God.”

“Can I say Allah instead of God?” Muslims asked.

“Can I substitute, ‘my Dharma’ for God? Hindus asked.

“Can I say, ‘the country in which I now live in’ instead of saying ‘to the Queen’?

The Scouts have answered “yes” to all these questions.

To my knowledge the Americans never bothered asking about swearing fealty to the Queen, and replaced ‘the Queen’ with ‘my country’ long before I joined. We were patriots, not royalists.

But, what do you put instead of “duty to God”? How ought the oath be revised to include a professing atheist?

Perhaps we should ask young George Pratt who was recently granted permission to join his local Troop; he was formerly banned for his determined atheism and adamant refusal to mention the “G word” in his personal oath. Now the Scouts have decided to prepare an alternative oath to allow those adults and children who profess atheism to join as full members.

“The chief executive of the Scout Association, Derek Twine, argues that the current rules simply force people to become ‘hypocritical or dishonest’ by taking the promise against their own beliefs,” (Bingham, John, 2012. Scouts Welcome Atheists a century after Baden-Powell demonized them. The Telegraph, 4 December, p.1).

As a boy, my family and I attended church every week, so reverence was a given, even if I didn’t know what it meant. But a number of my fellow Scouts were not so active in church which leaves me wondering if they felt hypocritical or dishonest when they made their weekly claim of religious devotion. Most probably never gave the matter a second thought. One might just as easily ask if I was hypocritical or dishonest when I said I was “loyal, helpful, courteous and kind”?

But, is reverence a word or practice akin to bravery and cleanliness? Is reverence simply one quality among many, or is it something more? What does reverence look like? What is our duty to God?

When I think about the behaviour and lifestyle of my ‘hypocritical’ friends I can’t think of too many ways, beyond Sunday worship, that their lives were different from my own. They seemed no more or less constrained by Christian morals than I was, no more or less susceptible to boyhood temptation, no different really than me or any of my church cohorts. In fact, there were times when their bravery and courtesy exceeded my own.

They were like that centurion whom Jesus extolled for his exemplary faith (Matthew 8:5-13). They acted reverent without knowing it.

What is George Pratt doing in his spare time? Harassing little old ladies? Stealing sweets from the local shops? Tossing his empty lager bottles into his neighbour’s front garden? Allowing his dog to soil the pavement?

I doubt it.

In fact, aside from the new oath he’ll soon be swearing, I’ll bet his lifestyle is indistinguishable from his ‘hypocritical’ fellow scouts. He will enjoy a long lie on Sunday morning, but how many of his Scouting peers will do the same?

Less than one in ten members of the general public rouse themselves for Sunday worship. Is there a higher percentage in the Scouting world? I hope so, but given my experience as chaplain in the local schools I am dubious. The vast majority of the children I work with have no more than a perfunctory knowledge of the church and its teachings. And yet, they are as brave and clean and courteous as the children who populate our Sunday school program, and so are their parents.

George wanted to be a member of the Scouts not to prove a point about the taking of false oaths, but so that he could go caving with his pals. He wasn’t coached by his parents; he was and is simply precocious.

But, his determination raises profound questions for the rest of us, especially those who do not consider themselves hypocritical or dishonest in our professions of duty to God. What is that duty? Is ours a different duty than our non-worshiping friends? Do we just sign allegiance to a more nuanced explication of duty (I believe in God the Father Almighty…)? Do our lives really look different? Should they? And in what ways?

The proof of our faith is in its practice. Ever pragmatic, James teaches us, “Faith without works is dead.” Perhaps if we work at it we can show George that duty to God is winsome and life-giving and worth promising each week at his Scout meetings.

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Beyond Lists

There is a place of prayer that lies above, or perhaps beyond the many lists that often direct our spiritual life. We all make lists of concerns about others, worries about the day ahead, or questions that trouble us in the night. Prayer is often a matter of working through our lists surrendering each point to the Almighty, sometimes methodically naming each one, sometimes presenting them to God in a bundle. But ending prayer at this stage may leave us with a concern that we’ve forgotten something, or neglected to name that one person whom we promised, “I’ll pray for you.” Listing the worries is a beginning, but we may fret that God has not really understood our requests, or may expect us to spell things out more clearly than we’ve done.

Nothing is worse than the feeling that we need to “go back in” after finishing our prayers to add the one thing that we forgot, as if our prayers were dependent on getting things done while the gates of heaven lay open before us. Remembering an unmentioned prayer is like needing to call someone on the telephone after just hanging up. “I hate to be a bother, but…”

Lists are the beginning, but waiting for Him is the second half. Waiting is a time of silent listening that follows our time of speaking. In waiting we come to realize that God is over all, covering our worrisome lists and completing every inadequacy we may feel about our ability to pray right. Waiting isn’t something we can force or accomplish with our efforts. It is more like learning to relax the many unconscious strains that weary our muscles without our awareness.

A guide once invited several of us to enter a time of waiting by becoming aware of those tensions throughout our body. “Sit comfortably and become aware of the top of your head, the tensions in your face, jaw, shoulders, etc.” all the way down to the feeling of the chair and the floor beneath us. It’s amazing how many tensions we carry in the muscles of our face and shoulders, how unaware we are of the constant wearying strain of life.

With practice it’s possible to reach a state of relaxation by deeply exhaling, watching the tattered remains of our lists flying up like incense before Him.

It’s the silent waiting that transforms us by allowing His sovereign hand to shape us like wet clay.

We may forget something on our list. My list is so long that I despair of even trying to work through it, so I don’t try, which is not to say that I don’t pray. Rather I try to let the Spirit pray for me, much as I would allow a maid to tidy my home, doing things I’d never have thought to do. It’s hard to sit and watch, but having done it once, or twice, it becomes easier. The maid does it better and faster than I could ever do, and it comes as a gift of love.

The day then becomes a matter of living in the peace that God has done and is continuing to do the heavy work of prayer, sorting out the wheat from the chaff in our minds and making us new in His image, not just according to the dictates of our lists, but far, far beyond anything we could ask or even imagine.

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Nordic Thunder

air head

We used to do this kind of stuff in high school…never knew it could go to such campy extremes. They gave this Guitar Hero a real guitar; he probably wondered, “What’s this?”

PS. if you’re wondering about my use of this image after yesterday’s post, news reports are considered “public domain” items and therefore permissible for general use.

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Reformed

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“But I took your picture off my blog site.”

“It doesn’t matter; you used it without my permission.”

“But, I didn’t earn any money using it.”

“Doesn’t matter, you owe me.”

“Can’t we settle this with an apology?”

“You made public use of my intellectual property without my knowledge or permission. You owe me royalties and must pay a penalty for breaking the law.”

“But, but, but…”

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”

Fortunately, this nightmare scenario was not my own; it happened to a fellow blogger who, like me, helped herself to one of the millions of pictures available on Google Images. Needless to say it was a painful and expensive lesson after which she promptly deleted all the pictures on her 700+ posts. Yesterday I did the same, leaving “The News From Scotland” bereft of every adornment save those photos that are my own.

Apparently the photographer discovered s/he could make more money pursuing copyright infringement than by actually selling pictures.

I’ve heard it said that ignorance of the law is no defence, nor is the claim that the use of someone else’s stuff is for a non-profit enterprise. The simple act of using an image clipped without permission from another website is illegal and fiscally punishable.

You can use your own stuff, or the banal clipart that comes with Microsoft Word, but anything else is off limits.

Bloggers and publishers of any kind simply must pay for images they use.

There are subscription services, but Wow, they’re expensive! One service is £149 per month and allows the user to download up to 25 images a day; that’s 20p per picture if you take all 25. Others allow you to pay per image, but those can cost between £1 and £7.50 each.

I’ve yet to research the matter fully so I’m not sure where I’m going to go with this, but those of you who read my blogs, (all 10 of you!), will in the short term have to get used to a “text only” format.

If anyone has suggestions about where to find good, cheap images I’m all ears.

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Clever Bird


There are many ways to bond with your fourteen year old daughter…I thought this was a pretty good one.

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Haste Makes Waste

A retired airline pilot once shared with me that haste was at the root of every accident.

“When anything went wrong it was because someone was in a hurry, either trying to make up lost time, or rushing through the pre-flight checks, etc.”

He spoke with an inevitably unhurried Southern drawl.

Haste makes waste, so goes the old adage.

It’s true too, in spiritual development; you can’t make it happen. Haste is such a constant temptation. In fact, it is itself a hindrance and at its root it is idolatrous. It is an effort to create something in our own image. It is the desire to manipulate circumstances and people for our own ends. It is arguing with God.

In prayer I find most often that there is a little knot of worry, buried in my soul and until that knot is addressed with His loving hands, nothing else can happen. Hurry masks worry. And worry is birthed in fear, the fear that we are alone and must face the world with our own paltry resources. Fear believes we are disconnected from God, isolated, and that somehow God is not for us. Life is a struggle to become rather than to be.

I make bread and by some mysterious process the dough rises to form something brown and lovely. I try to grow flowers too and, while I can help the process with water and fertilizer, I can’t make them grow any faster. In both cases my efforts to hasten the process sometimes end in disaster necessitating a fresh start. My work has the opposite effect.

Likewise with the soul. My love of process and progress is at times self-defeating. My idolatrous need for success, driven from within by hurry and worry, creates a monster of selfishness intoxicated with delusions of grandeur. It’s fun for a while but soon deteriorates.

Better is the simple wait, laying open my heart and that core of worry and fear to the gentle hands of Christ, who makes all things new in His time.

(Incidentally, every time I type the title of this blog it comes out “Haste makes waster” Something fitting about that!)

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Coins

My bag was getting heavy, it was full of coins.

Last week was Christian Aid Week and I was doing my bit, making the rounds for neighbourhood collections. It’s a house to house scheme. An envelope is dropped in the mailbox at the beginning of the week, then picked up towards the end of the week, hopefully with a donation inside.

Joining with other churches across the nation, our own church collected a fair amount, higher than the year before; but considering the number of hours that went into the effort, it was paltry. There were some on my route who, when pressed, could easily have made a single donation larger than our total.

Most gave something, but rarely more than one carries in his pocket on an average day. I watched as many did just that, reaching in for the largest coin, or the smallest.

How does a man, comfortably established in a nice home, drive home in a £50,000 car and give a £2 coin to the poor without feeling his conscience slightly tweaked? Perhaps he’s already giving generously to other fine charities? Perhaps he is on the board of some of an agency that works with the underprivileged? Maybe he really did “give at the office”?

Maybe he’s just greedy and careless of the needs of those around him.

I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of them, but some people looked at me as if I’d asked them to donate a kidney.

Would you really miss a tenner? Would you miss a £100? Would it make a noticeable impact on your retirement account if you wrote a cheque for £1000?

I felt like handing back the coin, “Here, I think you need this more than I do.”

But then, I suppose it’s not my job to make such judgments. Maybe the Lord is looking at my gift asking the same question? Maybe I’ll have to answer for the meanness of my donations?

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44).

It is the poor who give in faith and will be rewarded.

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The Shape of Me

I’m not getting fat, I’m changing shape.

The inevitable mid-life slump of the shoulders has forced a more pronounced sway in my spine thus moving my belly outwards, giving the false appearance of weight gain. There’s not more of me, there’s the same amount, just in different places.

Don’t ask me why my trousers feel tight because I really can’t say. It’s another laundry mystery.

I must confess though, as I sit here it does feel like there is a bit more material around my waist than there was a few years ago. And, without my participation in a rigorous weight lifting regime, I don’t think it’s muscle.

The question is, is this necessarily a bad thing? At 44 can I realistically expect to look like I was at 34? Should I worry about my extra flesh or happily accept it as a sign of mid-life? I am certainly in good company. Most of the men and boys I know carry more around the middle than I do. Everyone’s soft these days. We are all looking prosperous, living off the fat of the land.

I suppose I should be paying attention to the signals my body sends me at mealtimes: I go on eating well past the time my body says I’ve had enough. I just like food and enjoy the social part of mealtime and want to make it last longer; if I can prolong the experience with a second helping then I usually do.

It’s not as if we eat a poor diet. My wife does an excellent job of preparing balanced, healthy meals. It’s not the quality, it’s the quantity.

My work is largely sedentary; it’s rare that I need to expend much energy to accomplish my daily tasks. But, when I look at the workmen who turn up at my house, I notice the physical demands of their work do not necessarily translate into lean bodies. Most of them are fatter than me.

As a younger man I could and did eat anything and everything I wanted. Weight gain was not a problem, nor was it something I was able to do with my diet. I burned more calories than I ate. Older men used to tell me it would catch up to me at 40, but even then I went on eating with impunity. I’ve gained only about 1 pound a year in my 22 years of marriage and I needed every one of them; I was freakishly skinny at my wedding. I deceive myself into believing those extra pounds are manly muscle, but how much muscle can one really gain around the waist?

I can still “suck in my gut” by pulling back my sagging shoulders, but more and more doing so requires an unnatural and unsustainable posture. Were I to attempt this masquerade people would assume I had some sort of back problem and wonder why it was difficult for me to shake their hands or speak to them as one sound of mind and body?

They would, however remark on the thinness of my waist and the manly breadth of my chest and shoulders. “How fit you look and yet so unnaturally strained in your bearing.”

I could then only smile and hope they never saw me exhale.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to buy a new pair of trousers?

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Anvil Priest, pt. 2

Run for the border…

Americans will remember this as a tagline for a series of Taco Bell ads, but in Gretna Green it has a whole different meaning. As I said in my previous post, Gretna Green has for 250 years been the place that English couples went for a quickie marriage.

Scots law has long dictated that any individuals aged 16 or older could become a married couple with a simple word of affirmation. English law demanded they be at least 21. As a result lusty young couples came to Gretna Green, the first village across the border, to pay a visit to the blacksmith, the town’s leading citizen, who for a fee, married them with the bang of his hammer across the anvil.

His work with iron is apropos as it is iron in our necks that lead us to take such drastic actions.

Human beings are, instinctively it would seem, inclined to look out for loopholes in the law.

“If I can get what I want by going into the next county or the next state or the next country, I’ll happily do it.”

Certain unnamed family members, during her teen years can remember “running for the border” of Texas and Louisiana to buy beer when the drinking age was 21 and 18 respectively. Why not drive a few miles if it means I can get what I want and get it right now?

The question of marriage law is once again, or may soon be, the reason for a short drive, or even a long drive or a flight to get what one wants and to get it right now.

I’m talking about gay marriage.

"Honey, I'm seeing red."

In the US it’s a clear and present issue where gay couples can seal their vows in Massachusetts and force their more conservative state governments to recognize the sanctity of their love for one another.

In the race to legalize gay marriage, will it be England or Scotland that goes first? Where will the next Gretna Green be? And will couples, for the sake of posterity, insist on making their vows over an anvil?

"I've always liked navy blue at a wedding."

Who will be the next anvil priests?

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