Minister's blog

Time

"For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day." John 6.40 Getting your head around "eternal life" is not easy! Maybe it will help to tease out the different categories of time, which are mentioned in the Bible and which we encounter through experience. Time, as we know it, is linear: one thing happens after another and that gives us our perspective on life as past, present, future. Can it always have been this way or, as with everything else in the universe, must there have been a starting point? Many religions, including Christianity, posit a Creator. Christians assert that this Creator, whom

As the dust settles

"... why do you stand here looking into the sky?" Acts 1.11 As a minister, habitually I warn people about the shock of grief, even when the death of a loved one is expected. So, how is it that two days after the death of my own father I am disinclined to feel sad? Truth be told, we started grieving for Dad ten years ago, when his brain began to atrophy through Alzheimer's Disease. It was hardest at the start, while he understood what was happening: "Don't treat me as an idiot," he pleaded. As if! In fact, as his mental health declined and began to affect his physical prowess, our affection and respect for him grew. I saw it in his friends and acquaintances, as well as in his grandchildren: r

Farewell, my father

"Lord, let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled..." Nunc Dimittis from Luke 2.29 My father has just breathed his last in this world and has gone to glory in the next. Please allow me to share his story. As I am writing spontaneously I will omit things that others might consider significant and include what might seem trivial. Co-dhiù! Donald Alexander was born on 23 January 1938, older son of Colin and Margaret. His brother, John Campbell, arrived six years later. The boys grew up in Edinburgh where their mother, from Islay, and father, from Australia, had settled. Grandpa was away for much of their formative years, on account fo the Second World War, while Granny was bedri

Waiting game

"... the one you love is sick." John 11. 3 Last night we received the call we had been expecting, with that mixture of dread and relief which hangs over a situation where someone you love is near the end. You want their suffering to be over, yet you know their loss will be painful. And so you cherish every drop of life that remains. Dad's life has been diminishing for ten years, since Alzheimer's Disease kicked in. Throughout he has been lovingly tended by my mother and, latterly, by my sister and her family as well. For over a month now Dad has languished in hospital. Mum and Katrina have been in every day and all the immediate family have managed to negotiate the restrictions occasioned by

A shot in the arm

"... go and make disciples..." Matthew 28.19 Praise God for Latin Link's praise night, which was broadcast yesterday evening via Youtube. As one might imagine, it was full of Latin exuberance, with music from Chile and Scotland and prayers from Peru and Ireland. Neil Stewart preached powerfully from Jesus' 'Great Commission' as reported by Matthew at the conclusion of his Gospel. God's message through Stewart was that we need not be daunted by Covid 19 and the restrictions required for its containment. God remains on the throne and Jesus continues to build his church and the Spirit is empowering us all to play our part. The important question which faces each one of us uniquely is: How? How

Education education education

"... learn from me..." Matthew 11.29 Tony Blair's vaunted manifesto speech of 1997 earned his government a second term in office. But what sort of education was he proposing? At school, my Latin teacher enjoyed reminding his reluctant pupils of the origin of the term "e-ducare", to lead out. But most of us would testify to a different experience: of cramming in! Time to look across the pond... from the early 20th century American philosopher, John Dewey, was advocating a different approach: education as a life-long process of discovery. Sounds attractive, if you have the appetite for it and if you can afford not to depend on exam results and formal qualifications. In fact I reckon the Ottawa

Fully alive

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15.5 What is the difference between merely being and becoming fully alive? This was the question which preoccupied French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. Where his earlier, German counterpart, Ludwig Wittgenstein, concluded that what was real about a person depended on what others made of them, Sartre spoke up for the possibility of defining one's own being and significance. He named his approach to life as "existentialism". The key to existentialism is the exercise of free will and the avoidance of bad faith. Nobody has to settle for the role society expec

Words, words, words

"Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." Genesis 11.7 After God and life, language must rank as the fact of life humans most take for granted. The Bible offers an ambivalent view: God uses it to confound the efforts of monoglot humans to rival his authority through their construction efforts at Babel, while the redeemed use it to enrich their praise of God in Revelation 7.9: "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." Wittgenstein pointed out that language only means what it describes. In other words, it has no meaning in its own right. The implicat

Freedom!

"I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus..." Philemon 10 Not a reference to Mel Gibson and his battle-cry in the Hollywood epic 'Braveheart' but the church's proclamation to all in captivity every day. Today we are taking special notice because 20 September 2020 has been designated 'Freedom Sunday'. Here in Strath & Sleat we are looking forward to hearing a message from Andy Bevan, who runs the Scottish Office for the 'International Justice Mission', a global movement of Christians tackling slavery by mobilising indigenous justice systems. It is delightfully ironic that the apostle Paul should appeal to the master of the slave Onesimus, precisely because Onesimus had proved to be such a bless

Re-wilding

"Go to the ant... consider its ways and be wise!" Proverbs 6.6 Last night we watched a charming film called 'My Octopus Teacher'. It traces the friendship between Craig Foster, a South African wildlife photographer, and a wild octopus whom he befriends in the ocean off the shore where he lives near Cape Agulhas. Foster returns every day for a year of the octopus' life and wins its confidence, gaining privileged access to the ups and downs of its life: how it hunts, how it survives attack by a pyjama shark (growing back the limb it loses) and, in a bitter-sweet climax, how it starves itself to death in the natural process of giving birth. It is not a religious film and there is no evidence of

Bad religion

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this..." German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche was the son of a minister. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on his up-bringing, but he emerged with a warped and negative view of religion, which he despised as being thin gruel for weak-minded individuals. Through his fictitious alter-ego, Zarathustra, Nietzsche infamously pronounced "God is dead". Rather then content himself with an alternative ethical framework, Nietzsche proposed transcending morality altogether, in favour of a superior level of existence. And so the "Übermensch" was born - and we know where that led to... What Nietzsche thought he had done was to prove that

Eat, drink and be merry...

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." Ecclesiastes 8.15 In response to Immanuel Kant's severe deontology (duty before happiness), the Teacher's advice in this quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes might feel like a breath of fresh air! Certainly it accords with those who belong to the utilitarian stable of philosophy, built by the likes of John Stuart Mill and, more recently, Peter Singer. Jeremy Bentham went as far as to invent "hedonic calculus", a sort of pleasure-ometer, by which we can quanti

By the book

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5.48 In the 1986 comedy 'Clockwise', John Cleese plays a punctilious headmaster who gets his come-uppance at the very moment of his glory, when his perfectly ordered world unravels. German philosopher Immanuel Kant was also a stickler for things being done correctly, though perhaps not as accident-prone as Cleese' character! Kant's commitment to getting everything right led him to some significant conclusions and insights. It even spawned a new endeavour in philosophy called "deontology" (from the Grrek word meaning "duty"). Kant's uncompromising approach took him all over his subject and enabled him to square the odd circl

A word in season

"Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up." Proverbs 12.25 Use of this verse by the preacher in the on-line Church of Scotland Gaelic service on Sunday struck me powerfully. Duncan Sneddon, the Kirk's Gaelic Development Officer, was preaching about Jesus' empathy with people in moments of crisis, even where he was on the cusp of applying his divine power to meet the needs of the occasion. Numerous examples were offered, including the raising of Lazarus. Famously Jesus weeps, so swept up was he in the prevailing mood of desolation. And this, despite the awareness that he was about to restore Lazarus to those who were mourning his loss! God, in his wisdom, does not make a

Is seeing really believing?

"Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20.29 Many of us would feel sympathy with Doubting Thomas, who had to see the risen Jesus for himself before he would believe. Our educational culture is built around the scientific practice of testing ideas/ theories through experiment, in order to verify their claims empirically. This attitude may well be due to the influence of the great Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, a Scotsman. Hume had no time for accepting or assuming anything that could not be verified scientifically. His scepticism led him to reject all forms of religion. But the story goes that, when the great revi

To be or not to be...

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4. 18 Hamlet's famous speech goes on to explore the attractiveness of death, as a comfortable alternative to the vagaries of life. Yet he concludes that the uncertainty of what lies beyond the grave and the impossibility of returning if we don't like what we find, renders it as well to proceed with the life we know, however irksome. Christians believe that those who die in faith can look forward to a life that is not only more comfortable than this but beyond our finest imagining, in which we do indeed "shuffle off this mortal coil" but in order to be

Free will?

"... what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7.15 So how free is free will? The apostle Paul outlines the dilemma in the moment of personal crisis he includes in his letter to the church in Rome. Does he not speak for us all in expressing our struggle against sin: we know what we should not do but we do it anyway and the very things that we should do we seem incapable of? And yet... ... we have free will - apparently. This notion is embedded in the story of Adam and Eve, who chose to disobey God, despite having the option of refusing the forbidden fruit and remaining faithful. It is also essential for love to be true, that it is freely given and received. Hence the need

SOS

"... underneath are the everlasting arms." Deuteronomy 33.27 Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It's a sobering thought that we need such an event. But it remains the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and the second biggest for all 15-29 year-olds worldwide. Rumours that the Covid 19 pandemic has pushed rates up by 200% are unsubstantiated, yet experts believe that a mental health crisis is brewing and so we cannot be complacent. What causes people to take their own lives spans a range of reasons, rendering it a complex phenomenon, made even more so by the shame and notoriety. Persecuted minorities, including those facing discrimination on account of sexual and identity issues, ar

A sure foundation

"... we preach Christ crucified..." 1 Corinthians 1.23 Everybody knows René Descartes for his dictum "I think therefore I am". What they don't appreciate is the thought experiment which led to his famous statement; nor the conclusions he drew from it, which culminated in his proof of the existence of God. Nor, apparently, that the process inspired the Matrix films! Descartes was grappling with the conundrum of reality: how can we be sure that it is not all an illusion? So he stripped away everything of which he was not absolutely certain until he was left with that single affirmation: "I think therefore I am." From there he rebuilt credible arguments for the existence of God, based on the pr

Use your head!

"... test all things..." 1 Thessalonians 5.21 Thomas Aquinas was another luminary to emerge out of the Dark Ages. His thinking was inspired by Aristotle's empirical approach: that the way we understand life should be based on observation rather than by theorising. This led him to two particularly influential insights into our understanding of the world and of God. Noticing that everything happens (or moves) as a result of something else causing (or pushing) it, Aquinas deduced that something (or someone) must have initiated the process: "the unmoved mover". He concludes that this must be God. And, when one further examines the extraordinarily complex yet effective way in which everything in

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