Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Notes: Comrades by Robert Service


Robert Service has attempted an almost impossible feat - that of summarising the history of world communism in five hundred pages. The results are fascinating, and despite one or two disappointing elements, his broad brush approach makes for a fascinating read. Beginning with various levelling movements in Europe, Ricardo's Economics and Hegel's philosophy, Service traces the development of communist thought to Marx and Engels. He drives the narrative forward through 19thC protest and revolutionary movements, until 1917, when the story changes as for the first time self-proclaimed communists held the reins of power. He then traces developments (both in political theory and practice) from Lenin, Trotsky to Stalin within the USSR and through Eastern Europe, Soviet Central Asia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Korea and further afield. The book concludes with a description of the end of the Soviet era, Gorbachev's reforms and the continued existence of the Chinese one-party state.

Service has sought to write in a reasonably popular style, not much technical language and without a bombardment of footnotes either - this has led to some scorn from reviewers who have called it newspaper journalism history. And it's true that Service indulges in an overabundance of excessively florid metaphors. That is not the reason that Service has received most criticism however - left-wing critics have savaged him for his lack of balance in his discussion of an ideology for which he makes it plain he has no sympathy. His contention, is that the dictatorship of the proletariat, the totalitarian phase of communism that was meant to fade into the Utopian stuff of Marx is the inevitable terminus of the application of this philosophy. Those who wish to rehabilitate Marx's legacy by detaching it from Lenin and Stalin's practice are never going to appreciate a history written from such a perspective. Those who enjoy Richard Pipes' history of the Bolshevik Revolution would find Service to be a kindred spirit.

I'm not sure that Service's book is as unbalanced as his left-wing critics would insist, however. Whilst on one hand he dismisses Communism's failures, he also tries to account for its attraction for so many people in the twentieth century. This, he asserts, is a reaction to the injustices, failures, instabilities and flaws of capitalism. In a final telling aside he says that what made communism appealing in Tsarist Russia is exactly what makes Al Quaeda attractive to communities who feel threatened by capitalist hegemony today.

On a tangential note, I am enjoying reading again (post degree!). The differences I have noticed in the way I read when I am not studying are two-fold. Firstly I read what is going cheap - (and Comrades was an outstanding bargain!) rather than what's on a prescribed reading list. Secondly I now can read whole books! What I mean is that studying so often involves raiding twenty books to compare perspectives on one particular area, but reading a book (especially a tome) from cover-to-cover is not possible. So reading this was educational, and stimulating - but also really enjoyable. Reading for fun, is a re-discovered pleasure!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Icy Window

It's been a trifle chilly, of late.... this is one of our windows, glistening in the winter sunshine!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Venting


Air-vents have to be inserted through the slates to ensure that there is no build-up of condensation between them and the newly installed insulation beneath. How warm the room will actually be with that amount of air-flow around it, remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A critic or a worshipper?

In the course of three weeks I have met with other Christians for worship, in three different cities, in three different styles, in three different denominations, with three different emphases. There is one sense in which this is hugely enriching, enjoyable, and positive - and not just in an educational sense either. The down-side is that it's hard to be a worshipper when you are in a new context, because we all (rightly) like to evaluate before we participate. This presents though the danger of becoming a worship-critic, rather than a worship-er!

In one church service I went to the preacher made an absolutely howling theological gaffe, which made my hair stand on end! In another, I was disturbed by some of the claims made and practices that flowed from them. But what is the correct reaction? Like someone long ago more qualified than myself so to do, I had not come to judge! I had set aside those hours those Sunday mornings to focus on God, to honour Him, to bring my (frequently reluctant) heart before God for refreshment, cleansing and blessing, to learn from Him and to gain knowledge, encouragement and wisdom. The greatest barrier to doing that was simply my tendency to act in church as if I was a theatre critic judging a performance. So I resisted the temptation to either question the leader whose ministry model I found so disappointing, or take to task the preacher with the woeful inconsistencies in his message; and instead to try and pray.

Perhaps the word performance I used earlier is a key thing. In Tim Chester's recent series on his blog about "Communities of Grace vs Communities of Performance", he points out the damage that can be caused when performance replaces relationship in our worship. My experience over the last three weeks has been an extreme example of this. Because I have been travelling I have worshipped largely with strangers and so their 'performance' is all I have encountered of them! This is interesting, but far from normal or satisfying, because we are so much more naturally forgiving of people we know, understand and empathise with. Perhaps the inconsistent preacher is ill, or tired, or has unwell family members who consume his energies, and when tired doesn't express things well. Perhaps if challenged the leader with the questionable ministry model would accept that he misused a biblical text to justify is practices, or have an explanation for it. ... .. . .

Knowing me so well my (ever wise) wife pointed me to 1 Thessalonians 5:21 which says, "Test everything, hold onto the good". Like the apostle who first penned those words, she was right, and it was this that helped me to cease being a critic and start being a worshipper. The stress of Paul's instruction is not to test in order to judge what you find lacking, but to gather-in what you find good, true, pure, and wonderful! The truth is that in all three radically contrasting worship experiences there was SO MUCH that was good, so much that was, encouraging, biblical, helpful and real - that I have been given plenty of fuel for the flames of worship to consume!

I hope that now I am settling back into life in my home church after these weekends away that I will be able to use the truth of this verse so to become a little of what the Bible teacher Louis Giglio describes as, "not a consumer of worship services, but someone consumed in worship of God". I have a long way to go, but I am sure that this is a first-step.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting Plastered

We're not completely plastered yet. The taping and filing is well underway, but there's some sanding to do before the final layer goes on. Let their be lights! The sparky has finished his bit today. As well as lights we now have 'proper' integrated mains-powered smoke alarms in the house. These are something we should really have had a long time ago.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Did you hear the one about.........

Q: Why did the hedgehog cross the road?
A: To see his flat-mate!

Q: What did the policeman say to his belly-button?
A: You're under a vest!

Q: Why didn't the skeleton cross the road?
A: He didn't have the guts!

Q: Why was the Egyptian confused?
A: Because his Daddy was a Mummy!

Yes - Boris and Norris have a joke book, the favourite bits of which are read, re-read, and read again, and the amount of laughter which accompanies each punchline doesn't seem to diminish with each telling. Even better, we have spent a couple of days with the famous Solihull Five, and they too have a joke book, into which they too enjoy repeated forays to the same pages!

Little Doris on the other hand (being only just three) hasn't quite got the hang of jokes yet. This, however, doesn't stop her joining in the peels of laughter - or indeed writing new jokes. "Why did the man cross the road? Because his face was a mountain!" was one we were treated to in the car yesterday. Fortunately this greatly appealed to Norris' somewhat overdeveloped sense of the absurd and he up-ended himself laughing, which was nice because little Doris was very pleased to have been able to join in the big-kids game so successfully.

All I can say is, if you are thinking of buying your kids a joke-book for Christmas, choose very carefully as you will hear its contents, many, many, many times!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Hate Decorating

"Wives," James the VI and I once declared in a notorious aside, "are a necessary evil". I suspect that His Royal Highness was wrong about wives on at least one count, and so I would like to re-direct his acerbic put-down, away from them, and instead turn its fire towards the loathsome requirement of decorating.

Dirt, pen-marks, hand-prints, flaking paint and the like, mean that this living room is in urgent need of decoration (so I am reliably informed). Re-decorating the room, with all the hassle and expense that this entails, is (apparently) a pre-requisite for a satisfactory existence. Thus sayeth the wife, anyhow!

Needless to say, my view is that a cost/benefit analysis of the situation would indefinitely postpone any such endeavour. Days of misery spent with dust-sheets, polyfiller, sandpaper, paint brushes and rollers cannot be offset by a couple of smart looking walls. The long-term analysis of the matter is hardly more inspiring. If I am blessed with a long life, then heck, what's the rush? If, on the other hand, I am to be given but a few months or years, then frankly I have more important things left to achieve than this!

Which brings us back full-circle to the subject of wives. My one likes the house we share to be tidy and decorated. She finds the state of some parts of our house as irritating as my "motivational issues" as regards addressing them. Likewise she finds interior decorating magazines to be endless sources of inspiration, possibilities and ideas - whereas I find myself loosing consciousness and being summoned towards the bright light, as soon as they are mentioned.

So today, I have wasted my life, invested my time in decorating. Filling, sanding, brushing, rolling, dust-sheeting - the whole sorry caboodle. There is a fine line (yet nevertheless an important one) between saying that this is for my necessary evil, and saying that it is a necessary evil. A distinction the maintenance of which, my life expectancy somewhat depends upon.

Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. .....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Ring Story

There lies my severed wedding-ring, its symbolic 'unbroken-circle' of never ending love, in tatters. The Dr in the "Accident and Emergency" department of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary examined it and announced with a grin, that, "We'll either have to cut off the ring, or the finger". Well - better the ring than the finger I thought, and so they set to work, grinding through the only piece of jewellery that I have ever really worn, and which has been on my hand for twelve and a half years!

The trouble all began at the Hon. Percy Cowpat's house in Edinburgh where we were staying. My ring finger was a bit sore around the knuckle, and so I asked my (Dr) wife to look at it. She advised me to take off the ring, which I did. All was well, until I tried using logic. My thought was that if I left it lying around, it would get lost - not what I wanted. If I tried putting it on my little finger, if would fall off - also not what I wanted. Then I came up with what I thought was the perfect answer - to put the ring on the fourth finger of my other hand. It, I reasoned foolishly, wasn't aching, and so would be the same size as the fourth finger on my left hand and so would be the perfect place to keep the ring until the usual finger was better. Well, so I thought..

What I hadn't bargained for was the fact that my right hand is larger than my left (I have since discovered that in right-handed people this is almost always the case). The ring went on, smoothly enough, but then began to ache, and then began to really ache. My wife (The Dr) noted with concern (not a usual reaction to my many ailments I might add) that the aching finger was swelling and going blue, facts much more pertinent than the crescendo of pain beginning to accelerate into my arm. So with various lubricants they set to work, trying to pull the ring off. Sadly all their attempts came to nothing, the ring got firmly stuck over my knuckle and the finger began to go numb. I was duly dispatched to A&E where the cutters came out.

To be fair to the good doctors of E.R.I. they did give me the option of finger amputation. It would probably have been quicker than the cutters they did have. It took at least ten minutes of grinding to cut through the ring, the worst of which was the heat that the cutting generated.

The question now is whether to be a sentimentalist (melt this ring down and make a new ring from exactly this piece of gold, as put on my finger Aug 3rd, 2006) or a pragmatist (its only a symbol, get a new one). The latter option is by far the cheaper, however there is still a discussion to be had as my wife is more of a pragmatist about such things than I am. I am, no doubt, a tragic sentimentalist!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Better a Ring Than a Finger!

Grateful thanks to the A&E department of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary!

Almost a room


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bring on the Sparky












Watch out, watch out - there's a sparky about! Signs of walls appearing now too!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The 'other' Station

No doubt lovers of canals stare in horror at railway engines, who to the sound of steam whistles and the smell of smoke, steam and hot oil, destroyed the waterways as Britain's industrial arteries. To the canal boat-men, the peaceful, gentle mode of transport was smashed by the snorting efficiencies of railway mania.

Recently I indulged in a fit of eulogising over Perth station and received an e-mail (and a comment) from Vlad, suggesting that I similarly reflect on Perth's 'other' station, that for buses. I was in that part of town yesterday and went for snoop to see what I could find. The results were spectacularly depressing.

While the railway station might be a festival of nostalgia and crumbling glory, the bus station is an orgy of functional ugliness. When William Tite designed the railway station he did so as an act of opulent grandeur, of railway company egotism, in a hierarchical age when wages were low and company and civic ego's were high. The (long forgotten) draughtsman who put sorry pen to sorry paper to design the bus station on the other hand, was given but one brief, to make it cheap. The building, (1960s technology, with Lego aesthetics) is a place devoid of charm or interest, a sorry place that one longs to leave. Recently they found a corpse here in Perth Bus Station - a grizzly sordid tale made worse by the obvious black humour which darkly mumbles in response that this place is quite unsuitable for the living. In fact the living do not spend long here, but rush on their way to a more humane environment, scuttling from buses to shops, or onto buses that depart for Aberdeen, Inverness, Manchester, London and a list of destination that once would have been the pride of the railway station a stone's throw away.
The end wall of the bus station, with its awful lettering - a sight that cannot have failed to not inspire thousands of people over three decades.

Now I am not saying that the Trekkers cafe at the railway station is anything to write home about. Its coffee is OK, its ice-creams for kids in the summer are the bog-standard stuff, but the lamentably punning Bus 'y' bite (geddit!?) at the bus station makes Trekkers look like The Gleneagles Hotel. I was thinking of braving my way into the place in order to make a more informed comment on the culinary offerings, but was beaten back by the smell, and the ghastly sense that grease was congealing in the air all around me. The Gulag Cafe anyone? .. no thanks.

Buses are cheap, buses are efficient, buses represent a lovely egalitarianism, but for all this they are so graceless, so humourless, so without the sense of poetry or romance that oozes from the pores of Perth's grand railway station. Despite the cheap-tickets, the choice of destinations and the reliability of them, I still find no pleasure in the experience. Neither waiting for a bus, nor travelling on one is as consistently satisfying as watching the view as one pulls out of Perth Railway station from a train. I have spent many hours on buses, even long-distance on the celebrated Greyhounds across the States, but still the overriding impression they leave is of dissatisfaction. Now Perth Bus Station is not as bad as New York's Greyhound bus terminal, which is an underground valhalla from the third circle of Dante's nightmares; but it still is a blot on Perth's architectural map. Bus stations are very empty, devoid, without, well anything really.

I am tempted to write something parodying Betjeman (another eulogiser of the train) and say, "Come friendly bombs and fall on Perth, pummel the bus station for all your worth". But even as I do so, I am aware that I sound like the canal-lovers who once so hated the march of the parallel lines across the land, which robbed them of the tranquility of their dreamy canals and brought noise, efficiency and sordid innovations like Greenwich Mean Time into their lives. I know that that is how I sound. However, this is the view from Perth Bus Station, and it is not pleasing, and has few redeeming elements. The difference between the two can be summarised by the place of litter blowing across their respective tarmac aprons. At the train station the litter looks all wrong, the history, the grandeur and the scale of the place all protest that litter should have no place here! Yet at the bus station the litter looks appropriate, entirely in keeping with the tawdry building, the miserable architecture, the rotten materials, the shoe-box lines of both buildings and buses. They couldn't be bothered to build something worth looking at, so litter billowing through it shows that the public value it every bit as much the architect who once wretchedly signed his name to the plans. Sir William Tite, just turns in his grave.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Triso Super Number 10

Rolls of shiny insulation are stapled onto the beams. At £250/roll, this stuff had better work well.
Encasing the insides of the roof, this stuff makes the little room feel more like the space shuttle.
Next, batons are nailed in over the Super Triso Number 10 (which feels like the results of cross-breeding a roll of tin-foil and a duvet).

These batons will have plasterboard screwed to them next - already it's making the room feel a lot smaller.

Taking Shape

Our roof is splaying, the structural engineer says someone has foolishly removed the cross-ties that hold it together. Here's new ones going in that should prevent further cracking.

The old leaky, rusted-through window still in place, in front of it the beginning of a frame for a replacement. Strangely this photo makes the frame look rather squint, it looks fine in real life!

More new window frames awaiting their Velux's, which are still in their boxes.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More thoughts from Chester's Grace vs Performance Churches

I have been reminded again this weekend of Tim Chester's post, "Communities of Performance Verses Communities of Grace" . First time I read it, and blogged about it, the thing which stood out for me was the issue of vulnerability of leaders, and the danger of the hypocrisy of projecting an image of being 'sorted' rather than the honesty of revealing that we are sinners saved by grace alone.

As someone else read Chester's criteria to me this morning however, a different part of it jumped out and grabbed my attention - mostly because it was something that resonated with what my wife had been saying during the week. Chester writes:
In the community of performance, identity is found in ministry whereas in the community of grace, identity is found in Christ.
Of course theologically we know this is the case. In practice though, what weight does this truth have in how we view ourselves before God - and (just as importantly) how we view others? One person who grappled with this very issue was the famous Welsh preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Arguably the leading non-Conformist preacher of his day, he spent half a century preaching many times a week, to large congregations. When illness and old age curtailed his ministry, he was asked how he coped. He answered by quoting the words which Jesus said to his disciples when they experienced their first ministry success:
“Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because
your names are written in heaven”.
(Luke 10:20)
And commented:
Bear in mind.. our greatest danger is to to live upon our activity. The ultimate test of a preacher is what he feels like when he cannot preach. Our relationship to God is to be the supreme cause of joy. To lean upon our sermons or words of testimony from others is a real 'snare of all preachers’”.(Murray, vol 2, p738)
Lloyd-Jones makes the point in relation to preaching but the same principles can be applied to whatever field of Christian service we have been gifted for and called to do. Do we base our identity on what we do for The Lord - or who we are in Him? If we are primarily focused on the 'what', then we are in precarious territory, as our well-being and relationships will be dangerously performance orientated. How will we fare if we fail to perform, or when others fail? On the other hand, if being sinners, loved by God, saved by Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, adopted into his family, made heirs together with Christ and being seated with him in the heavenly realms is how we identify ourselves and others we fellowship with, then the effects are revolutionary.

Firstly with regard to ourselves. The security of our identity in Christ, provides the kind of stability that a performance mindset never could. It does not make us less determined to minister well in our own field, but means that when we fail it will not threaten the core of our identity. Likewise it means that we can be liberated from the need to seek the constant approval of others - knowing that, in Christ, God has freely given us His approval. It means that we do not need to aspire to prominence, control, power or influence in order to prove ourselves - but can quietly and diligently serve in the capacities to which we are called.

Secondly with regard to others, the change from a 'ministry' to a 'Christ-centered' view of identity is also significant. While some might argue that there is a hierarchy of giftings; this bears no relevance to the value we place in people, which remains absolute, regardless of calling, gifting, age etc. The old, hackneyed cliche that the church must value the cleaner as much as the preacher, has become corny due to over-use; but its relevance has not lessened one bit. Someone told me a few months ago that he has only really felt welcomed in the church once he had begun to take part, 'up the front' - as if this ministry role had somehow made him more worth speaking to! This is scandalous, because he was the same person made in the image of God, spoiled by sin and redeemed by Christ, and gifted by the Holy Spirit, both before and after he had led from the front! His ministry might have developed, but his value, and identity had not changed!

Forging our identities in Christ is not easy however. It requires not merely faith, but also a level of humility I have only rarely seen. An identity based on Christ requires deep repentance, not merely the listing of specific faults an failures, but an honesty about our falleness before God and others. It requires that we not only abandon the private attempt to justify ourselves to God, but instead seek His forgiveness; and then the abandonment of the public impression that we are self-made. The truth is that the gospel first demolishes our pride as we see our sinfulness, then remakes us as we discover how utterly loved we are by the God who forgives.

When Jesus selected leaders for his movement, he did not go to the temple, to the established religious orders of scribes, Pharisees and Sadducee's - but instead selected a strange collection of fishermen, tax-collectors, zealots and unremarkables. Yet to these outsiders, these humble men - aware of their own lack of qualification for service in Christ's kingdom, he warned; "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees". And what is this yeast, this tiny amount that can alter the consistency and taste of the whole batch? Self-righteous certainty, rule-keeping external holiness accompanied by a hard graceless heart, a cruel hierarchical view of people based on human performance, which flows from the heinous and crippling sin of spiritual pride. In fact we might say that the yeast of the Pharisees looks a little like the performance based church!

Like those first disciples, we are nothing much in human terms. We don't have any claim to be worthy servants of The Lord Jesus Christ - far from it! Rather, any and every service (however small it may appear to others) entrusted to us by Him is an unspeakable privilege. We haven't come to Him to offer our money, advice, wisdom or tremendous abilities - rather each of us has come to Him with nothing to offer - seeking only His forgiveness. Yet, if those disciples needed to be warned that they could insidiously be seduced away from a grace to performance mindset; how much more do we need to keep reminding ourselves of these things, and exposing our sins that we find present. And here's the other side of the coin - we do not need to fear such an exposure of our sins - because we are loved by God despite them, our new identity in Christ completely unthreatened by them.

Self-Portrait

Progress


Next, insulation gets packed in between the rafters. This up-to-date stuff should not only keep us a bit warmer (and maybe cut our fuel bills a bit) but isn't a fire risk either. The previous insulation was shredded newpapers, laid over the electrical wiring, some of which was in very poor condition - a huge hazard.

















Then the flooring can be added, in nothing more glamorous than 18mm ply, and the verticals added to tie-the roof in and provide the basis for walls.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Signs of the times


Coming soon to a street near you...

Building begins


Once the destruction has finished, the positive work of building something useful can begin!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In order to build, first you must destroy...

In order to build, first you must destroy...
A truth about our attic. Also possibly a parable. Anyone care to interpret and apply?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Church Grace Diagnostic

Tim Chester, (author, church leader, blogger etc) pictured on the left; is a very perceptive critic of the church - as it is usually organised in the UK. His latest post entitled "Communities of Performance Verses Communities of Grace" is as excellent as it is short. If you have three minutes to spare, click here! Highly recommended.

A Graceful Rising







Saturday, November 01, 2008

Chim-chim cheroo!


Perthshire sandstone. It's crumbly, even the slenderest ivy shoot can chew through it's powdery surface, it can't cope with freeze-thaw without splitting and it is dreadfully porous - gratefully drinking in any hint of moisture, creating plentiful work for local damp-proofing companies. Ah - but it's yellowish hues do look rather warm and welcoming in the low autumnal light.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Chimneys


(no narrative, sorry ER)

Attic Attack!

Scaffolding being put up at our house to start some work on the attic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Since 1850


Located in what was, until the 1960s, the heart of one of Britain's most important railway stations, this clock has been helping travellers work out how late their trains have arrived - since 1850. Although a local newspaper reporter recently derided Perth station as 'dank and seedy', I think it is a wonderful old collection of buildings. It is certainly in need of investment, it is definitely 'windswept' and often feels icily cold, even in the summer. The place though has an intrigue, a feel, an atmosphere that is in its own way, rather wonderful. Part of that is because unlike most public buildings, Perth station has never had enough money spent on it to effectively kick-over the traces of the past. While many libraries, church-buildings, courts, council offices and so forth have opted for relevance and functionality, the dear old station has never had that option - and so the past seems to be bursting out everywhere.

I look up at the old clock, situated in what is now primarily a car-park for railway employees in order to note the time. Even as I do so I am reminded of the thousands of people who have stood here before me, doing exactly this. Last moments between mothers and their sons departing for wars have been counted here, engine-drivers have looked nervously at its face as it revealed how much time they would have to make up as they assaulted the hard road North. This grand old clock has counted away the lives of Monarchs, Prime-Ministers, Empires, ticket-clerks, passengers, railway-companies, Ministers of Transport and eras of history.

Amidst the rusting beams, the peeling motor-rail stickers, the dripping roofs and the algae slowly crawling across the stonework, lies a thing of great beauty. Perth station was a grand place, and though she struggles by these days her dignity is not completely gone. Enough people come through her portals every day to assure her that she still has some use. Though the days of being overwhelmed with countless travellers, goods and trains have faded into the past, all is not lost. Though it used to be said that night or day, you could always hear a train moving at Perth, now long silences control the hours, punctuated by the mournful sound of litter being blown along the platforms, yet still all is not gone. And those platforms, those enormous, long gracious island platforms built so that mighty trains could queue up to depart for London, Manchester, Birmingham, Inverness, Cardiff, Aberdeen are mocked by the two-car DMUs that say Scotrail, but look like Hornby. They are puny things beneath the still-cavernous roof which deserves mighty engines to cover. But still, the glory of the place has not been completely robbed.

Glimpses of the station, as she was in her youthful vigour, or as she expanded into her late-Victorian adulthood, and on into 20th Century active middle age, frequently interrupt the fallen present. Twice-a-day The London Train creates a stir, the platforms fill with people, the train that comes in is big, noisy, snorting and imposes its presence. The doors don't slide shut at the touch of a button, with cold efficiency but are slammed shut with an honest nostalgic thud. Cases, rucksacks and boxes are manhandled on and off the coaches, and it still has windows that can be opened for waves, tears, smiles, or Brief Encounter farewells. The night sleeper's ghostly appearances conjour up a similar mood in their few moments rest at Perth, before the silence returns. In such moments, the grand old lady stretches herself and remembers what she once was. For all too short a moment, the pomp of the past invades the tawdriness of the present. When it happens, the litter, the grime, the rusty unused tracks, the empty offices, the broken guttering all seem to fade, and instead all manner of beauties come to the fore; the gorgeous yellow sandstone of William Tite's original station frontage, the sun glinting on the tangle of lines and points facing south, the guard's whistle that echoes back over a century and a half, the Victorian latticework cast-iron footbridge, the roar of exhaust and the red tail-light of the departing train disappearing beneath the Edinburgh Road. For those few moments, the platform of Perth Station, spread out before its clock, resembles George Earl's painting of it from 1895, called, "Going South".
In the late 1960s, Perth Station was wounded, but not killed by Beeching's assault. Her wings were clipped, as she lost her slow-trains North that served stations like Murthly, deemed unfit for a railway whose purposes could no longer include social and community considerations. Her limbs were severed as fast lines south to Edinburgh, and North to Aberdeen were cut off or dug-up, and her scenic tourist lines through Highlandman, Crieff, Glen Ogle and Oban were abandoned. She was humiliated as her great canopy, extended in the 1880s to cover a vast area, was cut-back, and her goods station built over.

As the London-train pulls out of the station, the clatter of feet on steps and the gentle rumble of modern wheelie-suitcases mingle with the voices of passengers hurrying for exits, calling cabs, dialling mobiles, summoning lifts. Then with a disorientating abruptness, the silence returns, the emptiness reasserts itself. The grand old lady who has stirred herself to reminisce, tires so soon these days. George Earl's Perth station is snuffed out in an instant, and the Perth station of today appears. In that moment it is almost as if Beeching's proverbial axe has fallen again. Tite's sandstone retreats, the moss and algae reappear, and an empty can of John Smith's Extra Smooth, rolls noisily across the vacant concrete.

Call Me Cynical But.....



So Russel Brand has quit, and Jonathan Ross is suspended following their on-air schoolboy prank which got a bit out of hand, at the weekend. Full of regret and remorse, they have issued apologies which their victim has accepted. Their explanation is that they are zany live performers, who are edgy, daring, creative and given to outbursts of uncontrollable wildness - wherever it leads.

But wait a minute. Isn't there more likely to be another side to this?

Why is it that Elton John can walk through an airport terminal completely calmly, without having a tantrum at journalists - except when he has a new album out? Simply because it propels him and his new product onto the front pages.

Brand, for his part has built his career on being ousted from jobs for being too outrageous, only to be offered bigger jobs once the furore has died down. Quietly putting out a weekly show on Radio 2 for a few years was never going to be his next career move, in fact it would have destroyed the volatile image he is trying to project. As for Jonathan Ross, I don't think I am being too cynical to suggest that this was merely a shocking piece of marketing. The day before this piece was recorded, Ross released a new book entitled "Why do I say these things?" the cover of which features a monkey putting its hand over his mouth to prevent him getting into trouble. I don't think I am being too cynical to suggest that the timing of this little scandal and the release of his scandal-book are entirely unrelated. The fact that the offending sections were pre-recorded, passed by editors and spliced into a live programme, demonstrates the extent of the planning involved in the whole thing. The fact that it has escalated to being mentioned in parliament, and is on the front page of every Tabloid, must be making Ross chuckle - as Tesco's heavily market his £25/hardback in shiny display packaging at the entrances to all their stores.

So if you thought Brand and Ross' stunts were rather pathetic. Don't start by writing to the BBC, don't complain to your MP, just avoid buying the wretched tie-in book.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Between Navigators and Visionaries

During the last year or so we have had two very different visiting speakers at our church, doing sermon series about the nature, meaning, purpose and mission of 'the church' - exploring different aspects of what it means to be the church of Christ today. I have been struck by the differences between their two approaches. These differences can be summed up by saying that the first one who came had visionary tendencies, while the second was more of a navigator.

The visionary approaches the subject like this. Beginning with an ideal, they explore that ideal, hold it up - and then try to work back from that ideal to where we are. As follows:

The Navigator, on the other hand has a completely different point of departure. For him, the starting point is not a place we might never reach this side of glory, but actually where we now are. As such the focus is on what we can most practically and helpfully do next as we seek to build the church. It looks more like this:
There are of course limitations to both approaches. The visionary is usually criticised in the following ways. His vision is so bold, so inspiring and so wonderful that it is quite beyond our reach. The pattern of church life he recommends is unattainable, merely creates guilt, disillusionment with outworking things in daily reality, and can just create a crowd of people skilled in criticising their fellow-believers, and the church itself. It looks like this:

On the other hand, the navigator is not always well-received either! When he speaks directly into the muddy and complicated realities of our situation, it can seem like duty, piled upon duty, lacking a vision to motivate and invigorate the daily effort. Without the imagination fired by a 'bigger-picture', the practical, down-to-earth wisdom of the navigator can fall flat. Like this:

Interestingly - and I think mostly on the basis of temperament rather than on any other split such as age, gender, etc people have expressed appreciation of either the visionary or the navigator! Few people have been enthused by both, most have either responded to one approach or the other. I suggest that both approaches are absolutely vital, necessary and that we are absolutely impoverished without both of these things. We need visionaries to remind us of God's big plan for the church, His love for the church, and its glorious future -and all that it can become today for the glory of God and enrichment of the lives of those around it. We need their ability to make us unwilling to settle for the mediocrity of the moment and to stretch, dream, strive and pray for the church to become all it should be - all it is called to become. But we also need navigators, people who will not merely berate us for being in the wrong place, but will start with where we are, our mundane, drab and awkward realities, and point us in the right direction - so that fired by the visionary passion we can continue to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that we are heading the right way. It looks like this:

So here's to Visionaries and Navigators. Long may you inspire us and instruct us. And may we all learn to appreciate the value of the model which least suits our temperaments!