Just One Day Out Of Life

 

It’s the 1st of May and lots people were enjoying a long lie, but the Creative Fool was up early and off to work, presenting Thought for the Day on Good Morning Scotland. As always you can listen again here by scrolling forward to the 22:50 mark. Otherwise, have a read and take a moment to consider how you are going to rest well today:

Bank Holiday Mondays occupy a funny place in our psyche. While some of us look forward to a lie-in and a day of unstructured leisure, others feel frustrated when the bank’s closed, the motorway’s clogged and rain puts a dampener on our barbecue plans. And that’s without taking into consideration those who don’t have a job, those whose work involves caring for children or dependent relatives, or people who simply have no option to take the day off work.

Of course everybody needs a break, a chance to take a breath. And if the only way for that to happen is for the wheels of commerce to stop turning for a day, then perhaps it’s not just a quaint hangover from our Victorian past. The idea behind statutory bank holidays was to protect the rights of workers to enjoy days of celebration such as May Day. How does that play out in the days of zero hour contracts and 24-hour retail?

The principle of resting is rooted in the Bible. The creation story takes place over six days, and finishes with a seventh that God declares to be holy, a day of rest from the work of creation. Whatever your perspective on creation, there is an interesting discussion to be had about the value of rest. The concept is important enough to be woven into the fabric of existence. We are more able to work hard and accomplish all we have to do when we have rested well. And I’m not just talking about collapsing in an exhausted heap at the end of a stressful day, week or decade. The view of rest that’s presented in the Bible is of breathing deeply, being re-created, recovering our sense of who we are.

We pride ourselves on our 24 hour culture, particularly in urban areas, and technology makes switching off difficult. Levels of stress and anxiety are on the increase. A few statutory bank holidays might help some of us to switch off, but I think we also need to find ways of encouraging one another to rest well and find room to breathe whatever our work or non-work situation.

I don’t often quote 80’s Madonna songs, but maybe she was onto something when she sang that:

If we took a holiday…

Just one day out of life

It would be, it would be so nice

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The Greatest Day in History

Our friends at Above Bar Church in Southampton have put this little animation for Easter and asked us to provide the voiceover for it. Even if you’re not in Southampton, and won’t be able to attend any of their events, it’s worth pondering the questions that it asks…

If you are in Southampton then get yourself to one of their Easter events. If you live elsewhere then check out what local churches are doing in your area to celebrate the greatest day in history!

SOS to the World

This week’s Thought for the Day was a last minute swap with another presenter, and in the midst of a plethora of world events, the Creative Fool’s eye was caught by a story about an Icelandic anti-littering project. You can read the full story here, you can hear the Thought here at 1:23:19 and below you’ll find the script. And if you keep listening, you’ll also hear a wee bit of singing from sports presenter, Phil Goodlad.

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Photo: BBC News

This week we learned that a brightly coloured yellow float had washed up on the east coast of Tiree. The heavily encased bottle, which carried a GPS tracker, was one of two dropped into the seas off Iceland in January 2016 by a children’s TV programme. Its purpose was to demonstrate to viewers that rubbish tossed into the ocean doesn’t disappear, but can travel miles to cause problems on the other side of the world. The team who launched the device anticipated that it would end up in Norway, but, as though designed to prove the point, it didn’t follow predictable patterns and, after being tracked around Greenland and off Canada, eventually washing up in the Outer Hebrides.

Those of us who grew up singing along to The Police know that the way to send an ‘SOS to the world’ is to pop a message in a bottle and thrust it into the waves. And anyone who’s ever tried to send one, knows it’s a risky business. A carefully composed note might end up buried on a distant beach, undiscovered and unread. But there’s always the hope that your corked bottle will connect you to someone on the other side of the world.

The premise of the Icelandic project is right. All actions have consequences, and not just our littering tendencies. Our decisions, whether on a personal, national or global scale, have an impact on other people and our own future. Like an unpredictable yellow float, the lies we tell, the deeds we hide or the damage we inflict on others might remain undiscovered, but more likely will turn up at a later point to cause problems.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the confident belief that God is both just and merciful. It’s this that sets us free from the fear that our actions can never be forgiven. Casting our burdens onto Jesus brings forgiveness and a fresh start, and this hope can keep us steady when life feels uncertain and chaotic. Rather than sending an SOS to the world, to quote another line from the song, only hope can keep me together.

On Randomness and Powerlessness

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This morning’s Thought for the Day drew inspiration from a quote I read at the weekend. It’s from a book entitled The Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams, author and member of the Inklings literary circle, and is quoted in Eugene Petersen’s helpful commentary on Jeremiah, Run With The Horses. The full quote refers to the Church, but I felt there was a relevance to the broader culture in these times of uncertainty and fear.

You can listen again to the Thought here by scrolling to 01:23:06 or you can read the text below:

Charles Williams, literary contemporary of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, once wrote that:

“At the moment when it is remotely possible that a whole generation might have learned something both of theory and practice, the learners and their learning are removed by death…The whole labour of regenerating mankind has to begin again every thirty years or so.”

Thirty years is no time at all. It seems that, just as one generation gets to grips with the world, everything shifts, the wisdom we have accrued is lost and we need to begin all over again.

My generation grew up during the Cold War. The seeping fear of nuclear threat permeated our understanding of politics and the future, yet the threat of monolithic global conflict seemed both remote and impersonal. This week, as parliament debated the rights and wrongs of maintaining a nuclear deterrent, violence and conflict seem closer to home, more individually driven, more likely to erupt at the end of my street. The sense of powerlessness and uncertainty is as overwhelming as thirty years ago.

In Baton Rouge, Nice or Istanbul, we observe the apparent randomness of events, and the deep-seated anger that drives individuals to behave violently towards others. How can peace ever be won by human endeavour when anger lurks in all of us? Not the righteous anger that rails against injustice, but an anger rooted in the hatred of others, acting in rebellion against peace.

Out of powerlessness, I find myself responding in the words of the psalm that asks the question. “Why. Why, Lord, do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” And the more I contemplate the random nature of violence in our times, the more drawn I am to the words that follow:

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.”

Perhaps we must learn again to look beyond ourselves to find the deep-rooted peace we are craving for the next generation, and for our own.

Truth is in the Body

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 14.30.45Back in the chilly days of March 2016, the Creative Fool was invited to speak at Q Commons, and event which aims to equip Christians to “engage our cultural moment”. Q Commons is a satellite event to the annual Q Conference and involved events happening in 180 simultaneously across the globe. It was a privilege to be invited to speak for 9 minutes on the subject of my choosing (that’s nine times more than you get on Just A Minute!) and I chose to speak on truthfulness, incarnation and physicality. If you’d like to view the whole nine minutes, you can do so here. I hope it stimulates you to “engage our cultural moment” regardless of your faith perspective! Here’s the video:

 

Thinking about the Unthinkable

ClydeEven at 7am the view over the Clyde sparkled with the promise of another glorious June day. The subject of Thought for the Day was less promising. Darker. Chilling. Last Wednesday, Scotland was trying to make sense of the verdict in the Liam Fee murder case. The temptation when asked to write something from a spiritual perspective on such a stomach-churning series of events is to pull a sickie and leave the job to someone better qualified, someone more able to understand the ‘why’. But the privilege of offering some hope, some promise of the presence of God in the darkest of suffering is one that is one that cannot be treated lightly. So, here is some reflection on the matter, form someone who is also trying to make sense of it.  As ever you can go to the BBC iPlayer and listen again at around 7.20am.

We’ve been hearing this morning the events surrounding the death of 2-year-old Liam Fee, and the news that his mother and her partner have been convicted of his murder. IT provokes a mixed response, and mixed because, on the one hand, there is relief that the justice system has done its job, but on the other, anger and distress at the disturbing details of this case and the vulnerability of the toddler.

This case perhaps seems especially upsetting because we assume that motherhood always comes with a measure of compassion and nurturing spirit. And unsettling because it occurred in an ordinary street in an ordinary Scottish town. Disbelief and anger is surely a just and right response to such inhumanity towards another human being.

And yet it might be too easy for us to try and make sense of this by blaming systemic failure or individual error of judgement, and too convenient to package up our disbelief in the assumption that by pointing the finger that will prevent future cruelty against the vulnerable.

Important though it is to put in place checks that will help prevent this happening again, in our most honest moments each of us knows that we carry the capacity to behave selfishly and cruelly towards others. We would be horrified at the idea of inflicting this kind of pain on someone else, but we know that we do not always behave with kindness, mercy and love. Amid the mourning for this vulnerable little boy, there can be a renewed determination in all of us to offer protection and security to others.

The Bible frequently stresses the importance of protecting the vulnerable and defending the weak. True religion, says the New Testament writer James, is pure and faultless, and means caring for the widows and the orphans in their affliction. It also gives us the chance even when we’re trying to come to terms with difficult and painful news to reflect and remember the capacity for love and protection for there that we all carry in our hearts.

When the joke goes wrong…

IMG_8880It’s election day here in Scotland and that means that Thought for the Day has to be about something else…so why not talk about a different election in a different country and reflect on God’s wisdom in the process. Not many of us would claim to be wise, especially not a professional fool, but here are some thoughts. As usual, you can listen again here by scrolling through to 01:23:17, or you can read the text here:

It’s never good when a joke goes wrong. This year Google had to issue an apology for an April Fool that led to people missing important emails and, in some cases, losing work. The Natural Environment Research Council probably thought that asking the public to name their latest research ship was a great wheeze until they realised they may have to launch Boaty McBoatface in 2019. And now, Donald Trump has won the Republican Party nomination and many people who started off enjoying jokes about ‘The Donald’ are no longer laughing.

With his aggressive one-liners on immigration, women’s rights and religious minorities, Trump appears to have tapped into a seam of anger lying deep within the economically challenged American heartland. There’s nothing new there. History demonstrates that when the thin veneer of prosperity cracks, a lurking fear of “the other” is revealed. So, when a strong personality comes along and “says it like it is” he gives permission for that latent fear to be unleashed, even when “saying it like is” often has no bearing in truth. Online searches on ‘How to move to Canada’ spiked across the USA after Super Tuesday. For many Americans, the thought of President Trump is not funny any more.

With elections closer to home today, many of us are reflecting on the responsibility we hold to make wise choices.  There’s a Proverb that says “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.” In these days, more than ever, wisdom is a prized commodity – it’s not the same as knowing all the facts, or even forming a strong opinion. True wisdom grows in the soil of experience, humility and selflessness.

The book of James in the New Testament states that “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” We would do well to seek wisdom in these coming days in the large and small choices we make, not least to ensure the joke is not on those who come after us.

Foolish Building

IMG_0917The Creative Fool was up and thinking early this morning. Today’s thought was on the current school buildings crisis in Edinburgh. This has impacted thousands of pupils in the city, and raises questions about PFI projects. Meanwhile, it gives us all pause to think about foundations. You can read the full text below, or listen again at 01:22:50:

It’s the dream you have the night before the start of a new term. Maybe something will happen to the school and I won’t have to go back tomorrow. But you know it won’t happen.

This week, the fanciful dream crumbled into a nightmare for council decision-makers, for parents trying to arrange childcare and, of course, for those pupils in Edinburgh sitting exams next month. Threats to the physical foundations of our public buildings shake our confidence in politicians and in those who plan and construct our environment. Rightly, there are questions to be asked and responsibility to be assigned for this current mess, but there’s also a lesson to be learned about the foundations we all lay.

We live in a demanding society where expediency and economy have become strong driving forces. Our schools are getting old and worn? Quick! Build some new ones, but do it for a competitive price and have it ready as soon as possible. We don’t set out to build schools that will prove dangerous after only 10 years, but in trying to save money and provide quick fixes, do we forget to take the long view?

In more philosophical terms “building for the future” means sacrificing some of the benefits of the present in order to lay the best possible foundations. There’s a passage in the Bible where Paul, a Christian, speaks about building on the solid foundation of faith in Jesus. Talking metaphorically, he says that we can choose to build with silver and gold, or with hay and straw, but ultimately the quality of what we build will be judged in the crucible of eternity. Cheap materials do not stand the test of time, and wood and straw burn to nothing, but costlier investment will endure forever.

All of this causes me to ask myself how prepared I am to sacrifice my present happiness and comfort for the long-term welfare of others. I’ll never have the skills to build a school, or even a small shed, but I can invest time and money to make my community more beautiful, just and kind in the longer term. Taking the long view of life is challenging but I suppose, even in the midst of the present confusion, every day’s a school day.

Lessons Learned In Doing Nothing

IMG_8625Last week Rachel and I spent a good amount of time doing nothing.

Let me rephrase that.

For three days last week, Rachel and I set off from Glasgow at the crack of dawn heading west. We boarded the ferry to Dunoon in order to get to the secondary school for 8.45am and…er…do nothing. We’d been invited to be part of an Easter project run during Holy Week by a local youth worker and, after much creative brainstorming about the Stations of the Cross, we came up with the idea of setting up a living tableau that would build towards the end of term assembly.

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Over nine break times we proceeded to build a newspaper stall with headlines proclaiming the events of the Easter narrative and culminating in the question ‘So what?’. To create our piece of performance art we also added a prop for each headline and took up residence on stage as newspaper sellers. We read the papers, chatted, ate, slept and interacted with any pupils brave enough to approach us.

IMG_8602Meanwhile, the level of interest grew. “What are they doing?”, “Why are they just sitting there?” and, most often, “Do they get paid to just sit there?”. Staff encouraged pupils to come and find out for themselves. We attracted a small band of loyal followers who would come over and chat at any opportunity. During one lunch break I was offered a choc ice by an S5 pupil. She said she felt sorry for me just sitting there while everyone around me ate lunch, but later in the day confessed that really she came over because she was utterly intrigued.

But most people just walked past and averted their eyes when they realised that we had spotted them looking at us.

IMG_8609All was revealed at Thursday morning’s assembly when the two newspaper sellers shouted their way through the headlines then relaxed with a creme egg to discuss the ‘So what?’ question. There was more news, they had heard. The man who was so brutally crucified the other day had been seen alive and well – talking, laughing, eating, living. What kind of man was this? One who could break the rules of the universe, and defeat the powers that held him dead. Good news indeed!

IMG_8639And why am I blogging about this? Obviously, I’m quite pleased that the gamble of doing nothing paid off. The pupils were engaged with the topic.  Staff were generally enthusiastic. The head teacher is looking forward to whatever we choose to do next Easter. The local team had great conversations with young people about Jesus. We managed to cross the stormy Clyde six times without losing our breakfast or lunch.

But, as the sign read, so what?IMG_8616

I think there are a few lessons we can learn from our week in Dunoon Grammar.

Firstly, there’s the challenge to those of us who work in schools to value the benefit of working within the parameters of the educational context. Too often over the years I’ve encountered Christians who try to ‘get away’ with as much as they can in schools,  shoe-horning a message into anything they’ve been invited to do. I’ve done it myself. Most of the time this is fine, albeit a little rude to the host school and insensitive to the environment, but at times it can verge towards a form of spiritual bullying that tries to force a response from young people who have not chosen to be present. It can also make life very difficult for Christians who work in the school regularly. Learning to serve is even more important in a post-Christian context. Many young people I encounter have very little knowledge of the Bible or understanding of the gospel. While the temptation to pack a message that includes everything I think they ought to know is strong, it takes more imagination and prayerful sensitivity to find ways of working in a wholly appropriate manner within the context of Religious Observance, or a subject-based curriculum.

IMG_8627Secondly, there’s a challenge to those of us who are artists who follow Jesus, to allow a piece of art to speak for itself. Recently I heard a story told by the Christian visual artist, Bruce Herman, who was asked why he thought that no great artist had come out of the evangelical Christian community. Stuck for an answer, one of his colleagues interrupted him and suggested that, “The imagination doesn’t grow in this soil.”. What a searing indictment of our heritage. Herman’s response to this haunting comment has been to see the fostering of imagination amongst Christian artists as his mandate as a painter and teacher.

I am someone who loves words and action, and as a writer and performer, I have to battle the desire to control the message and people’s response to it. The artist wields the power to evoke response in the audience through manipulation, but often there is greater power in allowing the art to speak for itself. Sitting on a stage doing nothing surrounded by seemingly unconnected props afforded those who observed the chance to form their own responses,  ask questions,  and ultimately made space for God to speak.

IMG_8642Thirdly, those of us who live in this post-Christian world can take something away from this art. My observation when apparently “reading the paper” was that many people were drawn to look at what was going on simply by virtue of the fact that there was something unexpected and unusual amongst the normal setting of the school hall. By reimagining the story into the ordinary context of daily life we engendered curiosity and interest, finding a hook to the genuine astonishment and pace of the first Holy Week as it would have been experienced by the disciples who lived through the events.

It’s simple to achieve this with a piece of art, but I’m left wondering what it looks like to reimagine this incredible, life-changing, cosmic gospel story in the normal setting of my street, my workplace, my family? The most obvious conclusion to draw is that Christians need to be in the mix to start with. Being a living, breathing, eating, helping, thanking, serving, forgiving, praying ‘work of art’ in the ordinary setting of the place where we live speaks volumes before we open my mouths and speak. And being prayerfully present, and willing to be observed, will prompt the ‘so what’ question from those around us.