Friday, 23 December 2011

I shall be having a wee break during the Christmas and New Year festivities therefore my blogging may be less frequent than normal. But look out for some post Christmas and pre New Year gems that may come tripping off my keyboard.

I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and all the best for the coming New Year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Homelessness kills

The news that Homeless people die, on average, 30 years before their neighbours is shocking but no surprise. The mental and physical extremes experienced by those who sleep rough or whose address is no fixed abode cannot be under estimated. It’s not just the lack of a roof - it’s the lack of purpose, identity, place and belonging that grinds down the souls of those who have no-where to lay their heads each evening. Homelessness kills and it seems like the world is still walking on by.

There are those who do great things in support of those who are homeless, not just in material provision of beds and food, but in getting beside them and walking with them. The Salvation Army, the Church of Scotland’s Cross reach and many others from the voluntary and statutory sectors save the lives of homeless people every day, or at least prolong them a little anyway. But the solutions lie in a level of material and spiritual investment that none of us, government and citizens, seem yet ready to make.

It’s not just beds, food and a roof we need to find. We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to walk with these folk, no matter how chaotic their lives or the darkness of their past for as long as it takes to get them to place that means they believe again that they matter to their neighbour; that they are both loved and loveable. That will cost a lot but when human lives are at stake, it seems a small price to pay. For the other truth the survey showed is that the human life at stake could so easily be ours.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

God Particles and the meaning of life

It was with great interest I read that a senior physicist of Hadron Collider at CERN announced that there was evidence of the existence of the Higgs Boson- the particle that is thought to underpin the subatomic workings of nature. I find these kinds of scientific discoveries and advancements awe inspiring

There is one part of this story that I struggle with; the idea that Higgs Boson is somehow “The God Particle”, and more importantly the suggestion that if it is discovered in the next year as predicted, this will both prove “The Big Bang Theory” and in doing so disprove the hand of God in creation and ultimately God .

I feel this is reflective of the type of consumerism society that we live in, we want everything now and we want answers neatly wrapped up in a bow. There is no room for the unknown or the mysterious. Yet science itself rarely gives definitive answers, Newton´s Law of Gravity was corrected by Einstein’s. It is only what we know now – and knowing the physical facts rarely is enough to understand the meaning of that knowledge for all of life

Higgs himself said of the name, “It embarrasses me”, going on to state that he felt it to be a “misuse of terminology”; it being called “The God Particle” overstates the importance of the particle. If discovered it will still leave many questions unanswered;

Explanation is one thing, however experience and decision are others that are critical to how our lives are lived. Self - giving love is at the heart of the Christian faith, and knowing another human being does not focus on the amounts of chemical compounds we are undoubtedly made up of. My love for my family goes far beyond emotion and relies little on scientific knowledge, however immensely valuable that is. The material of faith remains rich and is not dependent on one discovery or another. Indeed seen through the lens of faith, the work of science is to be welcomed rather than feared, especially if it can be harnessed to improve the lives of those suffering the ravages of poverty and disease. 

God is within and beyond any particles no matter how awe inspiring they may be.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Offensive behaviour and threatening communications

We all want to see a Scotland that is free from hatred and bigotry. This will take time and effort, and the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill alone will not in itself be enough.

It will be locally led and locally delivered community initiatives that will drive social and cultural change. Churches, schools, charities, police and statutory agencies need to be at the heart of a national anti-sectarianism strategy. It is for the Scottish Government to facilitate co-ordination and agenda setting, with all stakeholders, and for a national strategy to be visionary, long-term and attract cross-party support. This issue is too important to be used to try to seek political advantage; once this Bill has finished its progress through Parliament, MSP’s from all parties need to work together on a programme of action to combat sectarianism.

We know that sectarian attitudes and behaviours are not only found at football matches, and we know that the tackling of sectarian attitudes and behaviours cannot only be through the criminal justice system. So how are our schools resourced to teach about and explore the issues behind bigotry? What are the most effective interventions? How can leadership – spiritual, political, local community and football role-models – express clearly that there is no place for intolerance in Scotland.

I warmly commend the important work that has already taken place funded by churches, football clubs, the Scottish Government, local authorities, the police and charitable groups. It therefore should be recognised that we are not starting from scratch, however, a more co-ordinated strategy, with appropriate leadership and which has broad support, could lead to meaningful change.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Current Financial Crisis - People's Needs first

The decisions facing David Cameron at 4am this morning cannot have been easy. He is pulled many ways and the choices he makes will always be the wrong one to some-one whose support he need.  I understand why he chose in the end to exclude Britain from the next stage of negotiations but I am not convinced that it was the right choice.
It is time that European political leaders, including our own Prime Minister listened to the voice of the people who are protesting on the streets of many European countries. In a crisis situation – solidarity must prevail. It is time for more coherent economic governance, a closer political oversight over financial markets and a move towards a developed fiscal Union – no sustainable future will be found without it.
A global Financial Transaction Tax would be a step in the right direction. It limits financial speculation, redirects a small part of the gains from financial transactions to the needs of the people, particularly in the southern hemisphere and is supported by huge numbers of people – that the financiers don’t want it is not the issue; the people do.
The current crisis is an ethical crisis as well as a political one and the solutions European need to be based one ethical principles and values.  For two years political leaders have attempted to address this crisis – none of them have worked. They have all been insufficient and unsustainable. They have done nothing to regain the trust of the people in the European Union and deal with its crisis economic management and governance. In reality every delay fuels the crisis and is costly.
Decisive action must be taken now. And a financial Transaction Tax would be a good start as it begins with a key first principle for politicians in a crisis; act together- focusing on the needs of the people.
Alex Salmond in China: The First Minister Addresses The Central Party School

Alex Salmond recently addressed members of the Communist Party of China on the legacy of Adam Smith and its relevance to climate change.  The speech coincides with the climate change summit at Durban and while neither have been front page news it is good to see Scotland’s First Minister giving prominence to the subject. 

In his speech he encouraged other countries to share Scotland’s ambition to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and pointed to moral and ethical reasons why we should do this: mainly that the burden on climate change falls most heavily on the poor. And he invokes Adam Smiths ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’ (1759)to explain this:

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations.”

It is impressive that the First Minister can lecture the Chinese Communist Party on climate and great that we can take the global high ground.  We have every right to feel  proud of the Scottish Climate Change Act but the challenge is now to ensure that we put this into effect and ask everyone in Scotland, including departments of the Scottish Government how they can contribute to this vision.  In particular, in the same week as Alex Salmond was giving his speech his ministerial colleagues were publishing proposals to increase expenditure on road construction in Scotland.  

This continues the tradition of new road construction that has seen the M74 extension across the south side of Glasgow, new forth road bridges at Kincardine and at Queensferry and proposals to dual the A9 to Inverness.  While this may make driving a little quicker it will almost certainly lead to an increase in traffic and emissions of CO2. 

At the same time public transport in Scotland remains fragmented with incompatible ticketing and no real integration of buses, trains and other means of public transport, making journey complex and more expensive than they need to be. Investment in truly sustainable transport, walking and cycling, remains a pitiful proportion of the total.

The First Minister is preaching a great message but are his colleagues listening?

Monday, 5 December 2011

White Ribbon Campaign

Are you a man and a member of a faith community who would like to contribute to ending violence against women? Are you looking for concrete ways to actually do something effective within your faith community and beyond? We have just the opportunity for you.

The Church of Scotland aims to form two men’s multifaith groups (one specifically for men under the age of 25) who share interest and commitment to the aims of the White Ribbon Campaign. These aims are to:

• Endorse and clearly state the vital role of non-perpetrating men in challenging and stopping violence against women

• Identify, create and promote opportunities for non-perpetrating men to be involved in the campaign to Stop Violence Against Women in Scotland

• Increase the capacity of men in Scotland to engage in the campaign to Stop Violence Against Women, through examination and dissemination of best practice from the UK and abroad

For more information about the White Ribbon Scotland Campaign, please visit their website at:
Our specific goal is to work with these two multifaith groups to create an innovative plan of action within the unique context of faith communities. This is not an awareness raising campaign, but rather a think-tank with the goal of engaged activism that will make a difference in our respective communities.

The first meeting will be organized for early 2012. Please forward this to anyone you think would be interested. We need you to take action.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Nativity Plays

One of the extra-ordinary things about Christmas is the amazing creativity I see in school nativity plays – the retelling of a 2000 year old story in ways that remain fresh and new.  It’s a reminder to me of how my faith is as much as 21st Century faith as it is a 1st Century one with something to say about life and its living to everyone, no matter what they believe about God.

Which of course, is the point of things like nativity plays in schools. They are not evangelical opportunities but a time when, through drama, the wisdom of one faith community can be shared with others of all and no faiths. In that sharing everyone is included.  Those that don’t believe in the God bit can still find something for themselves and their view of life, even if it is that they disagree with the idea that Jesus was God on earth.

Sadly, there are those who, because they take the view that there is no God, want everyone else to live in a world where we can’t talk about God. They claim that they are excluded by Nativity plays when the truth is it they who are excluding themselves.  Their view of inclusion is that if they don’t like something, no one can enjoy it. Why is it that because they don’t want their children to take part in a nativity play, my children shouldn’t either. Their view of exclusion is that everything, (except their view, should be excluded in case they choose to be offended.

On that basis, we would say nothing about anything in case someone disagreed with something we said.  I don’t want that kind of world and neither did the baby in the manger who said we should love our enemies even at a cost to ourselves.

Nuclear Weapons

Last month a group from the World Council of Churches was meeting here in Scotland to discuss nuclear weapons.

The group, which was made up of policy experts and church leaders from around the world, including South Korea, Japan, Kenya, USA, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland as well as Britain, had come to meet in Scotland in recognition of the work that the Churches, civil society and the Government here have done in speaking out against nuclear weapons. Scotland is also in the unique position of having a Parliament, Government and general public opposed to nuclear weapons yet we have to host the Trident submarines on the Clyde. Speaking about the meeting Bruce Crawford MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy said:

“The Scottish Government remains firmly opposed to the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons – and the Scottish Parliament has clearly voted against the UK Government’s plans for a new generation of these costly, unnecessary and immoral missiles.

“An independent Scotland would not have such weapons of mass destruction based in its waters. Until then, the Scottish Government is committed to building Scotland's role in international peace building, and I welcome the opportunity to meet with the World Council of Churches and to work with others to take this important agenda forward, with and for the people of Scotland.

“We must work together to maximise the opportunities for engaging with international partners on matters of peace, conflict resolution and nuclear disarmament.”

The UK Government has put off any discussion of Trident replacement until after the next election, yet campaigners fear that secretly the Government is already investing in the new technology for the design of new warheads and missiles.

Nuclear weapons are inherently evil, and their possession, threat of use, or use, are so terrifying that we should all continue to do our utmost to seek their ultimate abolition.

We in Scotland have been recognised by the World Council of Churches for our campaigns on the issue. I hope the group have been inspired by what they have seen here in their week, and that the Churches may continue to work internationally for peace and reconciliation. Scotland has the opportunity to show how we can lead on peace through education and awareness raising. I will be at Faslane to protest on 31 March, at an event organised by SCANA. Why don't you join me?

Sectarianism - looking to the future

The much maligned Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill is in the final steps of its Parliamentary process. The focus of debate should now shift from whether this Bill is simply an example of gesture politics or about the dangers of unintended consequences of rushing legislation to what is it that we in Scotland can do to eradicate sectarian attitudes and behaviours.

That's why I am pleased that the Government is looking to tackle sectarianism with £3 million worth of new money towards local community projects that challenge bigotry and breaks down barriers.

The Moderator, Rt Rev David Arnott, has said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to a long-term community-based approach to tackling sectarianism and we look forward to engaging with the Government to help make that happen.”

Once the hubbub and party politics surrounding this issue has gone away (after this Bill finishes its passage through the Scottish Parliament), it will be time for a whole range of organisations, statutory and voluntary, to work together to help each other address the problem of sectarianism. From the Scottish Government, the churches, police, schools, trades unions, local authorities and most importantly local communities and grassroots charities. Eradicating hatred in society won't be a change that will happen overnight, but it is one which is surely not only possible but a task for which is at the heart of the Church's mission to love and to serve.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Violence Against Women

An important reminder that we are in the middle of the international 16 days of action against vioence against - 25 November - and runs until 10 December.

The Church and Society Council is in the process of preparing a report on domestic abuse for next year's General Assembly but the Church has also published some special resources to help congregations focus and reflect.

Special Starters for Sunday resources on the theme have been prepared.
The Guild have produced a prayer booklet to use on each of the 16 days.

Scottish Women's Aid have prepared special resources and a list of actions for faith groups.