Today is Time To Talk Day.  It’s a pretty simple idea… talk about your mental health.

So why a picture of a dog and a record?

Well, because talking about your mental health isn’t always about talking about the things that are wrong, although that’s hugely important.  Mental health is something we all have.  Sometimes, like our physical health, it is good and sometimes we have things we struggle with.  And, like our physical health, there are things we can do to help us stay well.

For me at the moment the dog and the music are two of those things that keep me well.

I work in a job that appears to be full of people.  It is.  Some of those encounters are when people are happy and some are when people are sad or angry or upset.  Both of those situations can be difficult depending on how I feel at the time.  Happy people can be just as hard to be with as sad people.  Being with someone who is grieving can be hugely positive and life giving.  I suppose what I’m saying is that ministry is up and down and that’s as much to do with how I feel on any given day as it is to do with the mood or needs of the people I encounter.

It’s also a job that’s full of times when you are alone.  Times where you sit at your desk for long periods trying to write a sermon or a tribute for a funeral or responding to emails or all the other things that need doing.  I enjoy all of that stuff but it can be a pretty solitary existence sometimes.  The other bits make up for that.

Having Aonghus Dog around helps.  He makes me get up from my desk and go for a walk.  He reminds me that caring for someone or something is a good thing.  His enthusiasm for life reminds me that life is good and that having some fun is a good thing.  He doesn’t need me to be anything other than here.  And to feed him.  And let hm out.  And to love him.  He makes me smile.  Just thinking about him makes me smile.  He lifts my mood.  Even on a rainy miserable day taking him for a walk can be a highlight.  Or sitting next to him as he looks out of the window at the world passing by.

The music is different.

I’ve always loved music.  I was a DJ in my late teens and early 20s.

(If you studied in Edinburgh in the early 90s and made it to The Shack in Kings Stables Road on a Wednesday or Friday then we’ve probably met! )

There’s something magical about music.

Something beyond a collection of notes played in the right order.

Something transcendent.

Music moves us.  Well, it moves me.  It provides a soundtrack to my day.  (Springsteen live in Chicago on The River Tour in 2016 is currently playing…  That’s us at the back…) It reminds me of people, places, experiences and things but it is more than that.  Why is it that when opening chords of The Rising start I well up inside, not with sadness but with joy.  It’s the same when U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name starts.  Other songs make me cry.

Music taps into our emotions in a way that very little else can.

We bought a new turntable.  Partly because we’re cool.  But also because listening to vinyl makes you sit and listen.  Listening to a whole album takes time.  And commitment.  It’s a very different experience to listening to MP3s on shuffle.  There’s a journey to go on.  I like that.

So, for me, my mental health is greatly improved by a wee dog that likes music.

All I need to do is remember how precious those things are and make time for them, and for the other stuff that keeps me well.

So, what keeps you well?

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I love when someone asks,”Can we do ….?”.  Mostly the answer is easy… YES!!!  (And why are you asking me? It’s YOUR church!)

A Burns Supper… a family meal with poems, dancing, song and speeches.  And this is what it looked like.  150 people of all ages enjoying haggis, neeps and tatties, the talents of children and adults and, most importantly, being together in community.

And it was brilliant.

But, so what?

Look at the picture.  Do you see what’s happening?




We could have had separate tables but the long tables meant people were sitting next to other people they might not know, that older people were sitting next to young children, that people made new friends.

I used to have a colleague that talked about planning moments of spontaneity.  I love the idea that what we do is to create the space and the opportunity for stuff to happen… and then get out of the road.  One of the biggest temptations in ministry is to fill the space, to programme every moment and to make sure there is no opportunity to go off course.

When we do that we completely miss the point.

The space is the purpose.

The conversations are the point.

The relationships are what matter.

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For five minutes or a couple of hours on the first Sunday of the month people come and sit in a candlelit church.

Sometimes it is the simplest idea that catches the imagination.

Providing a place of sanctuary and stillness is one of the gifts the church can provide to a busy world full of stress and concern.

Be still and know that I am God.


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Over that past 6 weeks I’ve been hosting a series of Bible Studies called Everything You Know Is Wrong* (*probably).  It grew from a growing realisation that most people, despite being members and attenders at church for years and years, haven’t had the chance to explore the Bible much.  Lots of us are stuck at what we got at Sunday School because the stories we are told when we are children stick deep in our memories and nothing has happened since then to add to them.  So, we still think Jonah was swallowed by a whale, even though the Bible calls it a big fish and that Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem, even though there is no mention of a donkey in any of the stories.

Those are symptoms of something deeper.

We don’t know how to engage critically with the Bible.

And that, I think, is problematic.

So, for the past 6 weeks we have been exploring what kinds of literature the Bible contains, and why it matters that we know, for example, that Genesis 1 is a poem and Genesis 2 is a myth.  They are different kinds of literature so we should deal with them differently.  And if you just got annoyed that I called part of the Bible a myth, you should probably go and do some thinking about what a myth actually is (hint: it’s a particular type of story that tries to explain a greater truth – like God created – and it’s kind of like a parable).

One of the other ideas we have grappled with is what ‘truth’ is, because there is more than one kind.  There’s the ‘scientific, mathematically provable fact’ kind but there is also the ‘I love my wife’ kind and there is the ‘tells us something about the nature of humanity and /or God’ kind.  Each of these is ‘true’.  Our problem is that we value the first kind more than the others, which is a problem when the Bible is written mostly in the second two kinds.  You don’t read a poem utilising mathematical proofs.  It may be a style that uses a certain kind of lines or words, but that’s about construction not content.  That a poem has 7 words in the first line and 14 in the second tells us something, but not what the poem is ‘about’.

We’ve had loads of fun and some pretty deep conversations about creation, sacrifice, promises, relationship, wilderness and incarnation.  We’ve discovered that the Bible is nothing like we thought it was and that we will probably never read it in the same way again…

and that’s great!

We may also have ruined Christmas.


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So… this happened…

I was Ordained into the ministry of word and sacraments on Friday 9th June and inducted to serve as minister of St Ninian’s Stonehouse.

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(photo Avril Cutler)

As I read a large chunk of the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion this morning I was struck, not for the first time, by the role of the Empire.

Pilate is the Roman Governor and so plays the part of the Empire in political terms.  He tries Jesus and finds no crime but does the will of the people because politics isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about getting things done.  Pilate’s conversation with Jesus is fascinating.  Throughout we read again and again that Pilate is astonished and amazed because Jesus refuses to play the political game.

The whole pattern of the crucifixion mirrors the coronation of the emperor.  It’s a subversion of the story of power.  Right from the first line of the first Gospel, Mark, we see this counter story laid out.

The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

For us that seems like an obvious, even bland introduction.  But it’s not.  It’s a hugely loaded political statement.  It says Jesus is Lord… not Caesar.  The Roman Empire spread ‘peace’ across the known world through fear and violence.  The Emperor was a god and ruled as such.

Jesus is the opposite.  He has no army, no political ambition to rule or to dominate.  He does have one thing…  authority.  And it terrifies those in power.  Pilate can see it.  The religious leaders can see it.  And their Empires can’t live with it.

Empire stretches far beyond the rule of Rome.  The religious Empire was just as powerful.  Even the Roman governor is scared of facing off against them.  They have contained and codified God.  They have quite literally put God in a box in a room that nobody is allowed to go into, even though the box isn’t there anymore.  They have regulated how and where and when God should be worshipped.  They have decided what is and is not pleasing to God, what behaviour will be tolerated and what rituals must be performed.  They even dish out the punishments, including death, when people break the religious rules.

This Empire can’t cope with a God who isn’t angry and vengeful.  This Empire doesn’t know what to do with grace.

So, when this Jesus comes along and challenges both Empires by being all that they should be but are not, there can be only one outcome… he has to die.

If Good Friday teaches us anything it surely has to be some kind of lesson about power.  A king who washes feet, who has compassion and love for the poor and the sick, who has no place to live, never mind a palace, who has no army or uniform and no claim over territories or governments or countries, stands before the might of two empires and is executed in a brutal manner on a garbage heap.  Power and ambition and rules and authority and fear and hatred win…

Each time we try to claim Christ as ours and ours alone, each time we try to create rules and regulations, to enforce our way of thinking or our way of doing it, or  when we just plain want our way, we join the empire and take the side of domination.  We stand with the crowd, shouting “Crucify him!”


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So, after three years of study my diploma arrived in the post today.  I kew I had passed but I didn’t know I had passed with merit!  I’m not altogether sure what that means.  Probably an average of over 60%.

To say I’m pleased would be an understatement.  I’m delighted.  I loved my time studying with the Scottish Episcopal Institute.  I have made some wonderful friends and learned so much.

I finish studying with the URC at the end of this academic year.  I’ve been on placement with fantastic people of Shawlands URC for a year and will start a new placement with the East Kilbride and Hamilton churches in the new year.

In the meantime I’m exploring a call to a church so hopefully I’ll have some news about what happens next in the adventure of ministry very soon!

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