Friday, 29 October 2010

A prayer for deer-whistling?

Latest gadget acquired for living in the wild west of Scotland: deer whistles for the cars (£5 on ebay)

The item in question is a small plastic whistle (well, a pair of whistles) which you stick onto the front grille of the car. The idea is that once you go above about 30 or 40 miles per hour, it emits a whistle pitched to annoy deer (and other furry road-kill-in-waiting) and they dodge off the road before you drive into them. It was recommended by a lady clippie on the Colintraive-Rhubodach ferry who wrote off a car recently driving into a stag. So, a heart-felt recommendation.

When the whistles came, I tried blowing through them and they - wait for it - emitted a whistle! I was a little worried how irritating this might be whilst driving, and what if you had a cat or a dog in the car? Would they be driven into a frenzy by the sound?

I installed them onto the cars' grilles (as shown above) and duly set off to Bute, speed varying from 20mph to (a wee bit over) 60 mph (allegedly). No whistling sound to be heard above the engine/road/wind noise. That was fine - no annoyance from the whistles.

But wait! Are they working at all? Blowing them with your mouth is a concentrated wind, directed straight into the whistle. Hoping that general air flow on the front of the car will cause the same or a similar effect? I started watching birds and animals to see if they behaved oddly as I drove past. The pheasants (collective IQ minus 30) dodged away - but they always do. I started to wonder if these things work at all, had I fitted them properly, what was it all about.

So I found myself reflecting on other things like that. Like prayer. Does it work? When we do it, as we ask for something for ourselves or others, do we look and see if it happens. If a desired outcome happens (the deer dodges away) is it the prayer, or was it going to happen anyway? Putting a deer whistle on a car can give a sense of security through having taken action - one feels better. Is prayer just as subjective - it makes us feel better? Or does it objectively change things around us/with us and God?

Of course, prayer is a dialogue with God, a way of growing our mutual relationship and encounter with our creator - and there is so much more to prayer than asking for things. But it is still good to just DO it, rather than to analyse in minute detail what it is we think we are doing.

As Ali said to me, 'After I fitted the deer whistle, I started seeing fewer and fewer deer by the road.' We can take the advice of those who have walked before us and walk alongside us. A praying way of life is a Christian way of life that works - just ask anyone who is living that way of life.

And I will continue to assume that it is better to have a deer whistle on your car than to not have one!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Autumn encounter of the furry kind...

I should be finishing thoughts for my talks in the services tomorrow (they are getting nicely distilled after plenty of reflection) but I will circle a little longer by blogging!
We met a red friend with tufty ears and a bushy tale on a walk through Bishop's Glen this afternoon. It's the first red squirrel we've seen for months. Now that the leaves are thinning out and the colours of the trees turning nice and rusty, it's a bit easier to see the wildlife around us, rather than just hearing the scuffling and scrabbling. One thing dies off, but a new insight is obtained on the world. Sounds suspiciously like the basis for a theological reflection!
It was very bold little fellow (I instinctively thought of it as a 'he', for no good reason whatsoever other than that he was showing off as he leapt from tree to tree). He stopped close enough for our rather basic little digitial camera to zoom in on him and get a quick shot. It actually gave him red-eye, which I photo-shopped out, which I think means he was looking straight at us as we were looking at him. Very confident!
A delightful encounter in Argyll. We must sort out some food for birds/squirrels now that it's getting colder.

Monday, 11 October 2010

A tale of two launches - part 2...

The second blogged launch on waters around Glasgow - the launching into the Clyde of the sixth and last of the Type 45 destroyers, Duncan. She'll become HMS Duncan in a couple of years once she goes into service.

It was only the second launch I've been to - the last was St Albans in 1999 (I reckon), the last of the Type 23 frigates. I didn't work on the design of those - I was still at school when they did the Type 23 Duke Class.

It was a beautiful day, clear blue skies and warm sunshine - always a bonus in a Scottish October! The date was the anniversay of Admiral Duncan's naval victory over the Dutch at Camperdown. Fair enough. The ship looked rather stark, I felt, a feature of this new design-style for warships.
There was a short service, lead by the chaplain of the fleet in his preaching bands and choir dress, the singing of 'For those in peril on the sea', some prayers. The crowd joined in slightly self-consciously and erratically with both the hymn and the Lord's Prayer. The prayer-book language naval prayer didn't get a look in with the ordinary punters!

The 'God-bit' over, lady something or other (apparently Mrs Marie Ibbotson, wife of the first Sea Lord!) crashed the champagne, pretended to push the bow, and off she (the ship) slid into the Clyde. Balloons flew and fireworks fountained - unfortunately the two crossed over and many of the balloons were shredded by the roman candles! I'm sure the symbolism was unintended: the fireworks were mounted around the missile silos, a system designed to shoot down large numbers of incoming aircraft and hostile missiles.

They have even made the Type 45 logo politically correct since I left - it used to be the ship with a missile blowing up a target - a subtle change and now it's a lovely round sun!

I met a few ex-colleagues at the shipyard, which I wasn't expecting, to be honest. They've all moved on to other things, but still in naval circles. They all knew that I am now 'a vicar', but not that we are up in Dunoon. It was rather unsettling, going back so vigorously into one's past. One of them even said they'd had some mail for me the other week, down in the HQ in Bristol.

Moving on, and in quite such a radical way, from shipbuilding executive to Anglican priest, has been quite a rollercoaster ride. The ethics of the industry in which I spent nearly 15 years are fascinating, and they are complex ethics, knitting together defence, weapons, foreign policy, national and international economics and social engineering in shipbuilding and other industrial regions. I can hardly claim a pacifist platform, with military service followed by a naval engineering career, but I can claim a nuanced take on the issues involved. Must all Christians be pacifists? I would suggest that Jesus was a pacifist, in the sense that we use today, but it doesn't follow that we all should be the same. Jesus was lots of things...

The Scottish Episcopal church has taken a stance against all nuclear weapons. That's not an area that I have ever encountered, other than some time in RAF Germany in the later cold war, before submarines had taken it all over. There are some interesting debates to be had about that war - the cold one - and how it was not fought and won.

But today was almost all about the future - the Type 45s were designed to be able to do nice gentle humanitarian errands, as well as shredding incoming missiles or aircraft. And the politics rumbles on - in the sheds behind us were looming blocks of aircraft carrier structure, well advanced in construction. Loss of jobs? Economic prudence? Unilateral reduction of armed forces? Who knows what the next few months and years may hold for my former colleagues?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A new bishop for Argyll and The Isles

A very exciting day. I was celebrating the eucharist at St Paul's Rothesay as the college of bishops met at Cumbrae to elect a new bishop for our diocese. Once the eucharist was over, I checked my silenced mobile phone for new - several missed calls and texts were listed. The news:

The Very Rev'd Kevin Pearson, rector of St Michael and All Saints, Edinburgh, Dean od Edinburgh, Provincial Director of Ordinands - was named as the new bishop-elect.

I have never met Kevin, being relatively new to the SEC, but I have heard of him.

We will be praying for him and Elspeth in the weeks and months to come, along with the members of his church in Edinburgh. Change is always painful.

But we will be looking forward to a new chapter in our beautiful diocese on the western fringes of this land. It has been a strange time for me, arriving in a very small diocese without even a bishop. But you can easily get used to operating in isolation, which is not how churches work best and flourish. I wonder which way he will wish to take us...?

But I remain excited!

The news today

Monday, 4 October 2010

Reflections of a single parent...

Mary has been abroad for a week now, with her mother. Today is the first anniversay of the death of John, her father, and it is very appropriate that she is with her mother in Jerusalem, where he died 12 months ago. It is hard to be far away when they are obviously in pain, but this is part of their process of coping with the uncopable.

Meanwhile, back in blighty, the Swifts are living as a single parent family. Mary did it enough times when I used to globe-trot for a living, but it's less usual for me. The rules all change: less stringent requirements on fruit and veg consumption, more flexibility on bedtimes (well, it is the October break), much higher likelihood that things will be forgotten about and have to be fixed later. The PE kit made it on the days it had to, but that's more to do with the children remembering it themselves. But it is hard, carrying the burden of the children & all their lives and activities (and relationships, parties, new wants) without someone to share it.

And the same period has had the first funeral to come in since I came to Scotland, as well as personal crisis for a new friend, not a church goer. Oh - and an old work colleague with a terminal diagnosis looking for a future funeral. Oh - and all the usual business of church, services, planning, (minor) conflict, anxieties.

I have had much discussion with single clergy friends about the pressures of life and ministry and having a partner. That partner can be a safety relief valve, a person who can share the strain. That's maybe a better way of being. But the downside is the pressure that sharing a relationship or a family with ministry brings. A single priest can be a committed (or as detached) as they wish to be - it's just about them, without school parent evenings or parallel careers.

We are called, all of us, to be what God would have us be. And we are called as we are: single, partnered, with or without family, psychologically wired as we are and become. The authentic ministry that we live and do is defined, in part, by this context. And when it all gets too much, and we break - is that when we fail to be authentic, we try and live up to too many other people's expectations?

Oh - and on the subject of sorting all this stuff out did I mention Frankie's new rabbit?