2010 in review

January 3, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,500 times in 2010. That’s about 18 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 13 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 194 posts.

The busiest day of the year was January 2nd with 76 views. The most popular post that day was PARABLE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were kirkmuirhillchurch.co.uk, coffeewithlouis.wordpress.com, calvinismmotorcycles.blogspot.com, mail.yahoo.com, and annedroid-annedroid.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for kirkmuirhill rev, kirkmuirhillrev, kirkmuirhill church, luke 18 1-8, and rip clipart.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

PARABLE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW June 2009

2

Presbyterianism – RIP September 2009
7 comments

3

THE SHIELD OF FAITH January 2009
1 comment

4

Good luck, touch wood, insh-allah February 2010
2 comments

5

Easter Sermon: Privilege and Responsibility April 2009
1 comment

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Saturday’s Daily Record ran a story celebrating 55 years since Billy Graham’s Tell-Scotland crusade in Glasgow, back in 1955.  A few weeks ago a journalist phoned me to see if I knew anyone who had been converted at that crusade.  “Certainly,” I told her, “my father!”  I’m delighted to report that the journalist followed this up and my father’s testiomy appeared on Saturday along with a photo of him.  Here it is, and i hope it is an encouragment to you all. 

Ian, 75, of Dundee, gave up his job as a waiter to become a labourer and stopped drinking, swearing and telling lies after he heard the evangelist at Ibrox.

He said: “I used to be a terrible swearer and drinker, just like any other fellow, and I told lies, stole and used God’s name in vain. All that stopped when I converted. It wasn’t until I heard Billy speak that I became conscious of the fact I was a sinner.

“I’d always gone to Sunday School and was a member of the Boys’ Brigade, but I didn’t think too much about it. My father was a publican and I worked in his bar. It was when I was in the RAF and stationed at Middleton St George in County Durham that I started going to church more often. But initially I went along for a skive. I soon started to feel a real presence of God, asked to join the church and was confirmed.

“I began to think more about God and so, when Billy came to Glasgow, I felt compelled to go and see him.

“It was a Saturday afternoon and I was meant to be working in my dad’s pub that night. I started singing hymns in the choir and was amazed when Billy said that back home in the States a barman had asked him: “Can I be a barman and still be a Christian?” His answer was no.

“Yet here was I, supposed to be working in the pub hours later.

“When he asked people to come forward, I went to the front. I’d been confirmed into the Church of Scotland when I was in the RAF so he asked if I wanted a reaffirmation. I said, ‘No, sir. It’ll be a conversion.’ I instantly felt a load off my back, as if the burden of sin has rolled off me. I called my father and told him I wouldn’t be coming to work that night and he understood. I knew I couldn’t go back to my trade as a waiter so I became a labourer and later worked with a tractor company.

“The experience of hearing Billy at Ibrox was unbelievably uplifting. I went back to see him when he came to Parkhead in 1991.”

His son, also Ian, is a Church of Scotland minister who heads up the evangelical organisation Forward Together. He said: “I’m always coming across people of my father’s generation whose lives were transformed by Billy Graham’s visit to Scotland.

“It was an amazing experience for people and a time when the Church of Scotland hit its highest membership.

“There’s no doubt what he preached was very powerful.”

Bullying in the work place

February 22, 2010

The news that allegations of bullying have been made against the Prime Minister by his staff has brought back some long dormant memories of my experience of bullying in the work place. 

My two years as a legal trainee had been within the congenial surroundings of a firm of solicitors with a 200 year-old history.  We were one of just two firms in a small county town where the profile of the local solicitors was very high.  It was the kind of firm which had a safe “pregnant with wills”.  My boss was a privately educated man who hated conflict and was loath to criticise anyone about anything (unless their behaviour was un-gentlemanly).  When correcting my poor efforts at drafting deeds he would say, “There’s nothing wrong with what you’ve done, it’s just a matter of style.” 

The one area of legal practice denied me was court work.  We hardly ever appeared in court, but farmed it out to those firms which cluster around sheriff courts rather like minor clergy around a cathedral.  And I wanted to have a crack at being a court lawyer.  After all, it was Rumpole of the Bailey who had persuaded me to enter the profession in the first place. 

So I applied for the post of court assistant at a medium sized firm in one of our larger towns, and got the job.  I was going to be working for a man who was undoubtedly the best court lawyer in the town.  A tall, thin praying-mantis of a man, who was well aware of his abilities.  He despised his rivals.  Like Napoleon, he had studied his enemies.  He could predict their every move.  I would be learning my art from a master.

We didn’t get off to a good start.  On my first day he took me out for lunch and told me that I’d only got the job because someone else didn’t want it.  Thereafter, the relationship became terribly strained.  Instead of going through cases, pointing out the pit-falls, and showing me how to avoid them, he watched to see how many traps I’d fall into.  And when I did, he tore me to shreds.  I would come into my office in the mornings to find him going through my files to ensure everything was up-to-date.  He let me know in no uncertain terms that he was watching me.

This was all very unsettling and was a million miles from the work-place environment I had been used to.  Even writing about it (which I have never done before) is stressful.  The result is that my personality changed.  Someone commented that I was like a dog with its tail between its legs.  The expectation that I would make mistakes became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Mostly, it was wee things, like not spotting spelling mistakes.  On one occasion I served a writ on a witness.  I could do nothing right.  He was rude and abrupt. 

The day came when he called me into his office.  “Ian, things aren’t working out.  We’re going to have to let you go.”  Nobody has been more relieved to be sacked than me; for I would never have quit.  My contract allowed me two months notice; he was willing to give me three.  I told him there and then that I’d be away within the month.  And I was.

This is where the sovereignty of God becomes so manifest.  A job was advertised.  I called an acquaintance who headed up the branch office of a large Edinburgh firm to enquire about the firm.  “Never mind them,” he said, “my assistant has just quit.  Come and work for me.”  And I did.  And I had two very happy years with him. 

But the bullying experience had made me question whether or not the law was for me.  I’d certainly never be as good as my boss.  Did I have a future in the profession?  The Lord had started calling me to the ministry. 

For months afterwards I had a recurring dream.  My memory of it is vague now, but it involved me offering him an ice-cream cone which he refused, and me saying, “What is it you want?” 

A post-script.  A few years later that man died, very suddenly of a heart-attack, at the breakfast table, in front of his wife and child.  He was only 50.  I knew his minister, and had already told him about my experience.  However, that minister was able to tell the widow that he knew someone who had worked with her husband, and that I had said he was undoubtedly a great lawyer.  I was told that the widow had appreciated this.

Last night, while ironing, I watched a programme about the Home Office.  It’s the first in a series about the three great offices of state—the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Treasury.  Kim was filling in her job application on-line, and I had just come in from the Prayer Meeting.  I saw there was ironing to be done, and decided to tackle it. 

I hate just ironing.  I have to be watching or listening to something at the same time.  So I booted up the lap-top and went, first, to the Reformed Forum, an on-line chat show, hosted by Camden Bucey.  If you don’t know it you should look it up.   It’s only because of this show that I know what are the current hot topics in the Reformed world!  They usually also review any new publications which may be of interest to their listeners.  How these guys get the time to read so much I don’t know.  Probably they aren’t notching up a couple of funerals per week. 

Last night I listened to an introduction to Karl Barth’s theology.  Having studied theology at a Scottish university I’m not entirely ignorant of what Barth is about, but the discussion was useful in that there were questions asked which had arisen in my mind too, and were answered.  For example, how do Barthians escape the charge of being universalists?  Answer, they may try to wriggle out of it, but not convincingly. 

Anyway, after that discussion, there were still plenty of clothes to attend to, so I turned to BBC I-Player.  I’m the kind of person I-Player was invented to serve.  For me, it stands along side the Answering Machine as among the greatest inventions ever.  It was getting late, and there was absolutely nothing on TV that I wanted to see.  The programme about the great offices of state was just the right subject and the right length of time. 

The programme was interesting in itself.  But the reason I’m writing about it is because of something Jack Straw said.  Jack Straw was New Labour’s first Home Secretary, and apart from Gordon Brown, is the only member of Tony Blair’s original Cabinet never to have been out of office.  I wonder why.  During the course of the interview he used the word or phrase “Insh-allah”. 

I’d never heard someone who is not a Moslem use that phrase before.  I believe it means “God willing”.  Mr. Straw used it in a context in which others would have said “touch wood”.  He meant “if we’re lucky”.  Here’s what I’m thinking.  Mr. Straw is not a Moslem; I think he is an atheist.  This being so, why did he use that phrase?  He is MP for Bolton, with many Moslems as constituents and I understand he has worked hard at building a good relationship with them.  Has he merely picked up the phrase?  Is he using it casually?  If so, do Moslems mind? 

Or, has he developed the habit of using the phrase in order to show familiarity with the it?  It’s a way of demonstrating solidarity with his constituents; he has adopted some of their language.  Again, what do Moslems think of that; for if this is the case, it could be considered a rather cynical ploy.  Do devout Moslems hear him bandy about a phrase that actually contains meaning for them, and do they cringe, as real Christians cringe when we hear the Lord’s name used in vain?  I’m just wondering.

On Friday night we had a ceilidh at our church. It was one of those occasions that are now almost unique to churches; an event for all ages, where the aim is to enjoy ourselves in an alcohol-free environment. The youngest present was 18 months; the oldest 89. And both were up dancing! Children were able to run about safely; seniors felt that for an evening at least the generation gap had disappeared. One of our teenagers had invited a pile of friends with the assurance that there would be no preaching!

For me, the highlight of the evening was being able to dance with my beautiful daughter. Amy is now 11 and has been learning “social dancing” at school. So for the first time in her life she had the confidence to take to the floor, knowing what she was doing. She was wearing her new electric blue dress, with stockings and shoes to match. Definitely the belle of the ball. Her insecurity hadn’t gone completely—I was the only man she’d dance with. But I wasn’t complaining. I feel that a particular, pleasant mile-stone has been passed.

Misplaced compassion

August 24, 2009

During the evening of  Wednesday 21st December 1988 I was wrapping Christmas presents.  I lived in Kinross at the time, a small market town.  It was my first year as a trainee solicitor.  I was living in cute cottage that belonged to my boss.  Outside was wintery, but inside was warm and snug.  I was listening to the radio, a Radio 4 discussion of some sort.

And then there was an interruption.  News of a plane crash over the border town of Locherbie. 

The next day was our office Christmas dinner.  As we were driven in the minibus to our restaurant the talk was of the crash and the seeming randomness of it.  If an obscure town like Locherbie could be hit, so could Kinross. 

And then the news came that it hadn’t been an accidental crash but a deliberate bombing.  For over 10 years the hunt for the Locherbie bombers appeared and then disappeared from our minds until January 2001 when there was finally a conviction.  The trial, of course, was not straight-forward.  I knew a prison guard who was stationed at Camp Zeist for a while.  It was all rather surreal.  Even after the conviction there was the appeal.  Locherbie just wouldn’t go away.

Now Megrahi has been released, on compassionate grounds.  I must admit that initially I thought releasing him on these grounds was the right thing to do.  The Church of Scotland has taken this position.  But on further, deeper reflection I’m not so sure it is right.

It seems to me that the role of the individual and the role of the State have been confused.  As a Christian I believe that I am called to forgive those who have harmed me.  The State, however, has as different role.  The duty of the state is to ensure that those who threaten and disrupt the lives of others and of society are punished in a way which is proportionate to their crime. The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 13 states that the secular governing authorities have been “established by God” and that the “one in authority” is “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. What I believe has happened in this current situation is that what should belong only to the subjective realm of personal responsibility is being inappropriately brought to bear on the objective judicial responsibility of the state.

Kenny MacAskill, our Justice Minister, acknowledged the pain of the loved ones of the victims.  Does he not see the importance for them of receiving justice and that for most of them the release of Megrahi is only going to increase their pain? Has compassion for Megrahi been considered more important than compassion for the victims loved ones? Certainly those who believe in Megrahis innocence will not be adversely affected by his release but what about those who do not?  Inasmuch as it is appropriate for compassion to be exercised by the justice system should compassion for the victims families not demand that whatever help otherwise Megrahi is given to cope with his illness he serve his full sentence or as much of it as his life span will allow?

I do believe in compassion.  Megrahi was shown a great deal of compassion by the Scottish people.  He was held in very comfortable conditions.  His family lived nearby and were able to visit him.  Compassion did not demand releasing him to return to a hero’s welcome in Libya. 

[I’m grateful to Rev.Dr. Cameron Macpherson for helping me think through this difficult issue biblically].

This blog is by way of a thanksgiving offering to the Lord.  Kim got a job.  And not just a job.  But the job she wanted, where she wanted.  Some of her friends had heard two weeks ago what they were doing, and as time went by she was beginning to wonder if she would be offered anything.  I was sure she would.  Anyway, there’s no point in me telling people to believe that the Lord knows best, and that he is sovereign over all things, if we ourselves cannot trust him.  We need to practice what we preach. 

So I hereby offer thanks to our Gracious God for meeting our every need; and in particular for Kim’s job.