Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Archive for the category “Reflections”

A Guy with a Guitar #ianwhite @theinspirationorchestra #inspirationorchestra

I was at a gig on Friday night (uncharacteristically) and ended up in a bizarrely moving headspace. Middle age allows a level of hindsight that, while making one feel old, is multi-layered and full of echoes. (I look forward to the scope of hindsight of old age!)

The artist playing was Ian White – an influential Christian musician in the 80s. The event was in support of his current project: “The Inspiration Orchestra” – primarily providing musical enrichment activities for disabled people. 

It is a long time since I first listened to “Psalms Volume 1”. I don’t think I was an Ian White fan as such, but the music and lyrics of his reworking of the Psalms was part of my teenage backdrop. We had a few Ian White cassettes and listened to them a lot, and sang along with them a lot. More than I realised at the time, apparently. 

I remember enjoying “Jonah” from the “Philippi” album – where he managed to squeeze the whole of the story of Jonah into one song – with the music and words depicting the dramatic story in dramatic form. 

“Word of God to Jonah, son of Amittai

Go and tell the Ninevites, change your ways or die…”

It’s a very energetic song, with a lot of guitar skills in evidence. Similarly percussive and engaging was “Philippi” where he put Silas and Paul’s prison experience to music, complete with earthquake. I spent many happy hours trying to learn to play Philippi on my guitar with my Ian White book of sheet music. I think I had to retune the guitar so that pretty much every string was a D to start with. I don’t know if that was cheating. 

Neither “Jonah” nor “Philippi” got a rendition on Friday night – but I still went back in time to hear them anyway. Who knows, I might even dust off my acoustic guitar and see how I get on. 

Most of the songs for which Ian White is known are the Psalms reworked. Granted, he had excellent source material. The resultant songs, because of their reworking, allowed the Psalms themselves into my mind and heart. I wonder how many people there are – across the world – who, like me, when they are reading the Psalms, come across a phrase or lyric and suddenly it comes alive with the melody and we remember that the Psalms were songs to be sung. Likewise, when circumstances give rise to a feeling echoed in the Psalms, it is very often brought to mind with Ian White’s expression of the words.

What if, in the early 80s, he hadn’t picked up his guitar and had a go at basing a song on a Psalm? 

In the pandemic, when we were first allowed back into the church building – it was an Ian White melody that my brain landed on for this Psalm: “Let us go… to the house…. Of the Lord… Let us go… to the house…. Of the Lord… I rejoiced with those who said to me Let us go to the house of the Lord…” So, on Friday, it was great to hear this song played live in a post pandemic busy venue “where the people of God go up and praise the Name of the Lord.”

What I thought was interesting was that, while all these thoughts were going through my head about the songs written 40 years ago by this guy with a guitar, there were perhaps a hundred other people there who may well be having a similar long-range, life echoey moment. And then, there’s the fact that for decades, he toured the world, singing all these songs he wrote and people, like me, the world over, listened to their cassettes on repeat and all of these fragments of the Scriptures made their way into our lives and long term memories. And they are still there. 

And the cross is still there…

…is another of his songs. This one was odd, as even although it is an Ian White song, I don’t have it filed in my subconscious under “Ian White”. I was in the Billy Graham choir at Parkhead in 1991 (I think that’s when it was). I was in 6th year at school and went to choir rehearsals somewhere in Shawlands (I think) and learned the alto parts to some completely brilliant hymns and songs. (These alto lines have proved very useful in the years since!) At the Billy Graham events, all the choirs from across the city got together in our self-coloured shirts and blouses and, in our multitude, gave it laldy over Glasgow. On the album that came out after the events – “Life Has Meaning” – there were a lot of our choir pieces and a lot of other solos from the event including “The Cross is Still There”. It was interesting to hear, 40 years later, Ian talk about writing the song. And again, I thought about the memories it brought back for me and then multiplying the memories sparked by that song for others. 

While I was sitting at the event seeing the songs and associations and memories start to weave together in my memory, Ian White spoke about his new project. 

He works with adults with disabilities and provides them opportunities to be creative and to contribute musically individually and in groups. The creativity has also moved into art work and photography and he has found ways to allow the creativity of this group to be seen, heard and celebrated. He shared clips of individuals playing, ensembles performing and art work being created. He has a vision of how to grow the work and how to further value these individuals and their work. And he presented this project with a lot of passion and a lot of energy. 

The last song was a new one about the importance of the small things in life. There were many small examples given of things that might not seem important but in fact are more profoundly important to people than we might ever know. 

The whole thing made me think about people’s creativity and creative work. Much as I don’t think I particularly follow film or music or fashion or art… there are pieces of work that have been important in my make-up, that I have been caught up with for a time, and that have stayed with me. I might have thought the list would be “Fawlty Towers”, “Back to the Future”, “A-ha” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” – but, it turns out that the songs of Ian White are in there somewhere. 

And, if the songs of Ian White, containing massive swathes of the Scriptures are rolling around my subconscious, how many other minds and memories are similarly blessed? Before influencers were even a thing, Ian White was an influencer of hundreds and thousands of people, getting the Word of God on to cassettes and into the airwaves and settling in minds and enriching lives, meaning that those words are there when life requires them. 

I was wanting to round off this post with a quote from the Psalms. But there are literally too many great quotes in the Psalms; I can’t choose. 

If you have got this far, please open a Bible halfway and see what Psalm is in front of you and see how the human experiences we know today are depicted there and how God is faithful and unchanging. And maybe you want to rework one into a song…

Poems of Hope #hoperestored23 @restoreglasgow @foolproofcreative #poemsofhope #humantrafficking

I took part in a poetry writing challenge this last week – and despite the fact that my resultant poems are already in various locations on the internet, I wanted to repost them all here in the one place for handiness. So – apologies to my subscribers of this blog who have already had to wade through my efforts on fb and instagram.

The challenge was launched at an event in St George’s Tron, Glasgow. The purpose was to highlight the issue of human trafficking, particularly in Glasgow. The charities Restore Glasgow and SOHTIS (Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland) were in attendance. The aim was to raise awareness of the signs of human trafficking in the hope that more can be rescued. In Scotland last year, 419 people were released from modern slavery in Scotland. This is the tip of the iceberg.

By writing poems, drawing pictures, talking about the issues, the idea was to raise awareness and bring hope to a difficult subject – to shine a light in the dark places. So, for a week, there was a daily prompt.

Annoyingly, I cannae work the formatting on the wordpress, so it keeps messing with my stanzas. I will put an asterix for a stanza break… bear with…

Day 1 CAPTURE

The word “capture” for me is a direct trigger for a childhood memory of a boy we overheard in 1981 in holiday in France. It always struck as as odd, the manner in which he used the word. I had to draw a wee picture too, which I enjoyed. While the link to human trafficking is clearly very very very tenuous on this occasion – my idea was to reflect on the mentality of someone who wants to “capture”.

“Capture”

Capture

*

“I’m going to capture a fish today!”

*

Jeremy announced

this wish for a fish

out of sight,

and we laughed.

*

He wasn’t for catch and release,

Oh no!

But to keep and store it,

Keep and store with pride –

*

Perhaps

in an airtight Tupperware,

or maybe he had a bowl

of water

with fake stones

and fake river weed

– a glassy grassy prison.

*

Swim little fishies,

Swim, swim, swim!

Don’t be contained by Jeremy

and his uncontained, unconstrained

enthusiasm for storing you,

*

Storing you until he has need of you,

Or just until he wants to take a peek at you

Limp, at the bottom of his bucket.

*

Avoid the net and hook

In the baited brook

And go with the flow where you will!

*

So, Jeremy, did you capture a fish?

Did you get your wish?

*

I hope, as his small hand gripped the cane,

his net outstretched,

His feet wet

and his bucket at the ready,

that he was dazzled

by the summer sun,

the glittery river

and the freedom

of the passing

silver scales.

***

Day 2: REVEAL

In this poem I tried to depict a driver becoming aware that they were being served by someone who had been trafficked.

Day 3: UNCLEAN

This was a very tricky prompt and I struggled so much I had to go down the haiku route.

“Unclean”

Day 4: RESCUE

This was a prompt that was a little easier to feel hopeful about. I always enjoy the challenge of a sonnet. I went for iambic pentameter and I am pretty happy with how this one worked out. For this one I illustrated it with a pic I took of a mural in Glasgow that I think is meant to be a Glaswegian take on St Francis – with that sense of care and nurture that one would hope the city would seek to emulate.

“Rescue”

Rescue

*

The rescue is waiting; prays for the day,

Ready for action in whatever way,

Rescue is sudden, a truth is revealed,

A climactic end, then time to be healed.

*

A moment of terror ends years of fear,

The rescue arrives, your saviour is here,

It’s over and yet that’s not how it seems

Reality falls short of captive dreams.

*

Know that the rescue we offer is real.

Trauma may well take a long time to heal.

The moment of rescue is only the start;

The city surrounds you with every heart.

*

Glasgow, in which you have suffered unseen

We pray, for you, will become both dear and green.

***

Day 5: Lament

Another difficult prompt for a “poem of hope” but again, a good challenge.

“Lament”

Lament

*

Long bows, low notes:

Discordant cellos sing from our souls.

Beauty and sorrow twist and bind,

Fuse and form our lament.

*

Lives, twisted and bound,

Underground,

Lost.

*

How long, O Lord?

*

And in the day and the night

All is activity.

Busyness, business.

Services, actions

Faceless transactions.

*

How long, O Lord?

*

Our throats ache

Mourning the unknown,

Imagining

The secret stories

Whispered in dark places.

*

How long, O Lord?

*

Suddenly hope slices the silence:

A whistle blown,

A dawn raid,

The right call made.

*

How long, O Lord,

Until we see

Lives, lifted and found?

***

Day 6: RENEW

I think this was my favourite prompt – as it is necessarily hopeful. I enjoyed thinking about creation and restoration – and how we only renew things that we have had before and want again – like we renew subscriptions or memberships or things that have been valuable in the past. And if you think about that show “The Repair Shop” – people bring in things they want renewed – the absolutely don’t want a new one – they want the one they love and value made new. Thinking about this made me reflect on the care that must be available to those escaping modern slavery and the trauma that requires healing. This leads to echoes of Revelation when God says “Behold I am making all things new”. So, I enjoyed the thought process behind this one.

“Renew”

Renew

*

New things become old things;

Time does that. 

*

They are damaged and break:

splits, chips and missing bits.

They show wear from use:

stretched, creased and misshapen

They are faded, bleached by the sun

with grubbiness ground in. 

They twist and unravel

The stitches come loose.

*

A life can be shattered, 

Beauty can be defaced, 

Freedom can be denied;

Cruelty does that.

*

Lives controlled and taken:

No choices, no voices.

Lives used and exploited:

Sapped, drained, contained.

Lives unwillingly redirected:

Frustrated, oppressed.

Lives unravelling,

Losing the thread

Of their own story. 

*

Can old be made new?

Can damage be mended?

*

I place you into the hands of the potter;

I place you into the hands of the carpenter;

I place you into the hands of the skilled craftsman;

I place you into the hands of the Creator.

*

I pray a prayer of echoes:

“Behold, I am making all things new!”

“A new creation: the old has gone the new has come!”

“Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven!”

*

We renew things of value;

We restore precious things;

We renew what we had

and we lost 

and we missed.

*

We missed you.

Then we found you.

*

It’s worth it; you’re worth it:

*

Hurt intercepted,

Injuries tended,

Future expected,

Relationships mended.

*

The careful restoration:

Keeps the character;

Celebrates the form;

Respects the past – 

Now, made to last. 

*

A thread, visible and invisible,

Holds all things together.

***

Day 7: RESTORE

I was initially out of ideas as I had gone for a “restore” angle on “renew” the day before. However the prompt made me think about the phrase “Restorer of Broken Walls” and so I found in in Isaiah and set about reworking that passage into rhyming stanzas with one eye on the theme of hope and human trafficking. The picture is one I took recently in Inverness, of a building that has been recently restored.

“Restore”

A reworking of (Isaiah 58 9b-12)

*

Lift up the weight that crushes down

And makes the worker weary.

Don’t blame them, don’t shame them.

Learn to see things clearly.

*

Spend yourself, now give your all.

Supply for others’ delight.

The light will break the darkness;

It will be noon instead of night.

*

The Lord will guide you always.

You will be satisfied.

You will be strong despite 

The fact the sun your land has dried.

*

Restored, you are a garden

Where the water always flows,

And like a spring you refresh,

Around you things can grow.

*

It’s time. The people know it.

The ruins will be mended.

They raise up old foundations.

The broken walls are tended.

*

And you will be renamed:

Of the broken, the Repairer:

A title showing that you have

turned round and made things fairer.

*

You’ll be known as the Restorer

Of the places where we stay.

And now we claim this as our hope

It is for this we pray.

***

So, that was my week of poems. Friends on facebook and instagram were very encouraging and I found the week challenging in terms of writing but also in terms of thinking about the issue of human trafficking in my city. The whole thing is really based on awareness – people need to be aware in order to spot the signs, to alert the authorities and allow hope to be restored.

How long do you think we should wait? #leadership

It was busy at the gym. The third of January. Everyone’s best intentions still intact. 

I had done an hour’s workout as is my usual for a Tuesday. Admittedly, I had regressed my set a little. Wouldn’t want to break myself. Need to wake up the muscles gently for 2023 after two days of rest. Two days of seizing up in shock at the fact I had taken a rest, more like. I needed a good stretch out. 

Instead of a traditional post-workout cooldown, I went to Yoga. There’s nothing like a five-breath downward dog sometimes. I got my mat and found a wee space in the back row. Everyone was lining up ready for the off. Someone commented that it was weird that the instructor wasn’t there. 

From the Child’s Pose, I stretched out my fingers as far in front of me as I could get them. Forehead on the floor. Still no instructor. I gave my vertebrae a chance to come up and down off the mat one at a time. And still no sign.

Someone went to see where he was. He wasn’t anywhere. 

“How long do you think we should wait?” someone asked. 

I was desperate for there to be a class. Desperate. But as the burliest, least flexible and most rubbish at yoga person in the room, I was in no position to step into leadership. 

In this leadership vacuum, what would happen? 

Someone said, “Shall we start with some breathing?”

As the haun-knittit nature of the session became apparent, the three male members of the class left. And a couple of women took up their mats and walked. 

But the breathing thing was as close to a plan as we had. And as the breathing turned to gentle sun salutations, it turned out that this girl probably was the best at yoga in the room. So we went with it. 

Some downward dogs, some planks, some legs up and down and even a few chaturangas and a couple of cobras. Then some balancing. Then some floor stuff. There was a questionable decision by some: to give headstands a go. I opted for a kind of weird knees on elbows stretch and balance which seemed less likely to generate any paperwork or insurance difficulties for anyone. Then some more breathing to finish.  

Fabulous. And such a relief not to have the crushing disappointment of no yoga when I had so much wanted to have a proper stretch after my recent month of rundays. 

We were given coffees in lieu of an instructor, so that was nice. 

But all the while I was thinking about leadership and how the election of our leader came about. 

I don’t think she was particularly power crazy and keen to take charge – but she wanted to do some yoga like the rest of us. There was a lot of looking around the room hopefully at each other, waiting for someone to crack and take up the mantle. 

Then there were the few who left before they had the chance to try out the new leader, or to hear about the compensatory coffee: it was too much of a risk, too much of a potential waste of time; might as well go into the gym and do your own thing. 

Then there were considerations about the wisdom of it all. What if a headstand had resulted in a broken femur? Where would the responsibility lie? If you follow a leader who breaks you – but you followed them – is it their fault or yours? Lemmings and all that. 

I think that this is probably how leaders should be chosen. A group of people have the same goal. The person best placed to lead, in terms of ability and experience, looks around and thinks that honestly, they are in fact the best person to lead the group. So, they start to lead the group. The group are happy – and if they are not, they can leave. At the end, everyone is happy and gives the leader a genuine round of applause and personal thanks, as their sacrifice for the benefit of the group is appreciated. 

“How long do you think we should wait?” 

It’s a good question. Hopefully someone competent and willing is at hand. Maybe it is you. 

Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart on Unsplash

Leader Ship Sea Shanty

Happy New Year for 2023! 

I wrote this poem (below) in November 2021, during a COP 26 poetry challenge #poemsofhope. 

(This was just before I had the COVID that meant that I failed to finish the poetry challenge. The fact that it was part of a challenge is the reason the poem includes reference to getting the poem written in time… I would have edited that out, but it turns out that that would take too much effort…) 

ANYWAY

Weirdly, this poem stayed with me in my subconscious for 2022 because Leadership, as a theme, seemed to fall into universal crisis for the duration. I stand by the ideas expressed in the poem. (Sorry the rationale is first and the poem second. Feel free to scroll down. The poem is funner than the rationale.)

“Leadership has gone astray”: I am sure things weren’t always this bad. I mean I know that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but why the apparent obsession with leaders proving it true at every turn? Why not… not? 

Inspirational Leaders do not lead by force: I would like a leader to come up with a great idea, identify a change that needs to be made. I would like to be convinced that this is the moral high ground; this is the only just course of action. Then, actually inspired, I would march the march, protest in protest, be the change I would like to see in the world and so on. In contrast, those in leadership seem to throw money at random priorities. Maybe I am wrong; maybe they are not random – but it’s the lack of leadership in the leadership that makes me feel they are random. Come on, inspire me!

“A leader is only leading when they are followed by you and me”: Okay this is to do with the cult of leadership. The logical cul-de-sac of everyone can be a leader. Philosophically that is utter mince. Followers are led by leaders; leaders have followers. Okay so each leader might have mentors, inspirations and influencers – and each follower might lead someone or somethings – but in any one context at any one time – not everyone is a leader. You are particularly not a leader if you have just read a book on leadership and decide to behave like a random automaton. Please – come up with a good idea or a strategy and try to inspire people to follow your lead. 

Politically, I am very frustrated. There is so much polarisation and so little debate. There’s the unionist/nationalist thing, the leaver/remainer thing, the left/right thing, the gender ideology thing, the cancelling thing. It has never been so Orwellian. Or maybe it has always been thus and I just wasn’t paying attention. 

So as we enter 2023 I hope our leaders on the global stage (trying to deal with East/West thing, the Russia/Ukraine thing, the Global North/Global South thing) may they not lead by force. May they inspire right change. I hope our national leaders at Holyrood and Westminster will get their priorities right. I hate the fact that I doubt they will. I hope that I, when I read about leadership or organise a thing, will inspire rather than depress those I hope to lead. 

On that note, sorry that this may have been depressing – the poem is fun. Please enjoy it. 

Leader Ship Shanty

In the Good Ship Leader, I swear it’s so

A yo ho ho! and off we go!

And a yo ho ho! We’ll find a way

If we follow the leader, on course we’ll stay!

(But in my mind, I have to say

That “Leadership” has gone astray.

The problem seems to be that when

A leader leads, it is often then

They begin to crave more power and sway

And thirst for control gets in the way –

And before you know it, the leader falls:

“Walk the plank!” …You’ll hear the calls.)

A yo ho ho! So, let’s be led –

And who should be there, at the head?

A yo ho ho! I have a plan.

Let’s have an inspirational man.

(Okay, or woman, it’s just for rhyme –

And I have to get this wrut in time!)

There was Gandhi and there was Martin King

And both led peacefully and both did win

They took their protests on the march

And shamed oppressors who’d been harsh.

Peacefully, they made it known

That injustice can be overthrown.

A yo ho ho! Can we set sail?

Our mission’s clear, we must not fail?

A yo ho ho! Who’s at the helm?

We have to put our faith in them!

There’s a type of leader we really need

If we hope to give and share and feed,

And show compassion to our neighbour,

And guarantee fair pay for labour,

And have a broad consideration,

For those in need in every nation.

Corruption scuppers everything!

The irony of self – 

If only those in power could leave

Their egos on the shelf.

But here’s the hope I’ll leave you – 

As we sail along the sea:

A leader is only leading 

When they are followed by you and me.

Let’s abandon ships that waver

From a course we want to go

And support those at the forefront

Of the causes that we know

Will make a difference in the world

And lead to better things.

(This can be done by servants 

And this can be done by kings.)

And as for me? And as for you?

In our own Leader Ships?

I think you know the way to go

On your many leader trips.

Take the people with you 

On a route that leads to good.

Ensure the dangers of corruption

Are those you’ve understood.

And now, set sail across the world

And love the ones that come.

And serve and tend your followers

(no, not with a tot of rum…).

With a yo ho ho, for justice we hanker!

With a yo ho ho, together: Weigh Anchor!

The Shoes of Readiness

“Are you ready?” 

“Yes.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

“Hold on. I just need to put my shoes on.”

“So, you weren’t ready?”

“Eh, no.”

Many such conversations happen, I find, as people get ready to go out and do things. When you get ready, putting on shoes is generally a pretty key part of that preparation. 

The apostle Paul wasn’t going anywhere. He was a prisoner “in chains”. Despite his imprisonment, he kept up his work of making known “the mystery of the Gospel” and encouraging the church through his letter writing. 

His letter to the Christians in Ephesus ends with an extended metaphor which was likely to have been inspired by the Roman soldiers he would have been with or have seen during his imprisonment. He uses a soldier’s armour as a metaphor for what a Christian requires when engaged in a spiritual battle. 

Despite the fact that Paul was imprisoned by the Romans – and that this is clearly a direct conflict with Paul on a personal level, Paul begins by separating the personal and the spiritual. 

“… our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

I think this is a really interesting starting point (well, when I say starting point – this was all part of his “And finally”… of his letter to the Ephesians) because it fits so well with Jesus’s idea about loving one’s enemies. Christians should never “have it in for” people in general or individuals in particular – “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. Paul’s clarification here reinforces Jesus’ idea: it is evil itself that Christians have to oppose, not those who may promote or defend it. So – although Paul is imprisoned by Romans, he is not in a struggle against the Roman people, or the individual soldiers holding him; he is in a struggle against the system and the powers of evil that worked against him. 

He then begins the extended metaphor:

“Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

The whole thing – the whole armour – the panoply (sorry!) – is about readiness (not just the shoes that I haven’t got to yet!) The Ephesian Christians were being encouraged to get ready by putting on this metaphorical spiritual armour for battles yet to come. I think his explanation of the purpose of this is really interesting. 

Firstly, the purpose of wearing the armour is to be “able to stand your ground” and ultimately “to stand”. But in the middle there is the “after you have done everything” slipped in there. So – the Christian has to stand their ground and afterwards still be standing – which in a way sounds pretty easy (just don’t move!) but between those two points, they need to (perhaps) do “everything”. So, they needed, in fact, to be ready for anything and everything to happen. 

If you were told to be ready for anything – and you needed your shoes of readiness, which shoes would you select? Pink fluffy slippers? Birkenstocks? DMs? Winklepickers? High Heels? I think I would have either my hiking shoes or my trail running shoes. They are my shoes of readiness, no matter the terrain.

But for the “soldier of Christ” – what shoes of readiness do they require?

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

These first three elements of the Armour of God work together – so before I get to the shoes of readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, there is the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness to inspect.

Truth has always been under attack, even although philosophically that is nuts. From Pilate wondering what truth was and not waiting for an answer – to the 18th century Romantics giving subjectivity a wee boost – to poor old Winston Smith being presented with 2 plus 2 and having to agree with the Party that it might perhaps be 5, while a boot stamped on a human face forever… 

The truth that matters here, I would suppose, is the truth about God – for example, Jesus’s claim – “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The truth about God, the gospel – the good news. The truth about who Jesus is what holds everything together for the wearer of the Armour of God. 

More complex is the breastplate of righteousness. A first century equivalent of a bulletproof vest, the breastplate would protect the heart, lungs and abdomen.  To protect one’s metaphorical vital organs, Paul suggests covering them with righteousness: the quality of being morally right or justifiable. This is where it gets tricky. The soldier knows that he cannot sustain a morally right and justifiable life. If one dons a breastplate of one’s own righteousness, he may well find it full of holes. 

Elsewhere (Romans 3), Paul explains how this works:

“…the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…”

This breastplate of righteousness is not one that the soldier has forged for himself. It is the righteousness of Christ, received as a gift to the believer. The soldier can then go into battle confident that his breastplate will work and the fatal blow will not come – the righteousness of Christ actually is morally right and justifiable unlike the homemade efforts of the soldier. 

Back to the shoes. 

They are described variously in different versions/translations. For example:

NIV

and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

NLT

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

ESV

and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.

KJV

And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

So, there are a few key elements for selecting your shoes. Grip? Watertightness? Comfort? No. 

Firstly, these spiritual, metaphorical shoes are all about readiness and preparedness. And it’s such an appropriate image as shoes are all about readiness. But where does this readiness come from? It comes from “the gospel of peace”, “the Good News”.

Here is where this half of the whole extended metaphor comes together: 

The gospel (concerning the shoes), the Good News is, in fact, the Truth. This links back to the belt of truth. The peace (concerning the shoes) is the peace that comes from believing – and to the believer is given the righteousness of Christ. This links back to the breastplate of righteousness. 

As one commentator put it: “We believe God’s truth. We are righteous in Christ. We are at peace with God.” 

This then means that we are ready. For “everything”. 

Because the soldier of Christ is at peace with God, they are then opposed to evil. This then brings about the struggle he mentioned initially – the struggle “not against flesh and blood”. 

Metaphors can be tricky. One can be accused of reading too much into metaphors. It could be argued that Paul was just rounding off his letter with a pithy, memorable visual for his readers. But the way that these first three items work together make me suspect that the rest of the armour will be woven thematically in with these so that we do, in fact, end up with the panoply – the “whole armour of God” – in that the whole thing needs to be in place (okay okay it’s a metaphor) for the soldier of Christ to be ready for everything. 

What is life like when you are not ready? When have you cried out, “I wasn’t ready!” – when the day or the weather or the circumstances have run ahead of you and you regret your lack of preparation. It is always frustrating to be stuck in a situation with the wrong shoes or the wrong jacket…

 This whole extended metaphor goes beyond general readiness for daily life. It prepares the soldier of Christ, the Christian, for the most difficult of days. 

I am not sure precisely what Paul meant when he referred to “when the day of evil comes” – whether he meant a specific day or whether he meant that each soldier of Christ may have individual attacks from Satan. But I think such a day can be identified when the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness are attacked: when the truth about God is under fire or the shame of one’s own sin is raised when it has been covered by Christ’s righteousness. But when these two are intact, the shoes of readiness are there – because the soldier is at peace with God and so, a little ironically, is ready for battle. 

“Are you ready?” 

Dons belt and breastplate.

“Yes.”

“Okay, let’s go – although, will you not need to put your shoes on?”

“They’re on.”

… in which we go to Eigg…

It was all very Enid Blyton, in some respects. We weren’t escaping an evil uncle and aunt or anything, but we were taking all the essentials and making off in a small boat to an island with caves on it. 

Okay, so the small boat was not totally small; it was about the size of Quint’s “we need a bigger boat” boat – the Orca – from Jaws, and it soon filled up with tourists, ready for a day’s trip to Eigg. 

The weather was really low down. There was a large grey cloud and we were in it. Smirr and drizzle at very close quarters. We set off into the calm, grey damp, for an hour’s sail; we soon arrived at the pier on Eigg. 

We had planned to go to the café anyway, but we were doubly happy to go there as it was not only still very wet, but also very cold. We got in and got a seat in the busy café and ordered in a round of tea, hot chocolate, flapjacks and gingerbread.  There was a long, wet queue building, as everyone outside on the pier figured it was a good time to get inside. 

The café is part of a lovely new development with well-thought-through elements: lovely clean toilets; lovely grocery store; lovely gift shop. Lovely.

The café had a spectacular picture window looking out at what I imagine would have been a stunning view if you could have seen it. Clean white walls, wooden furniture and art for sale displayed. A background muzak of fast ceilidhish sounds, that probably would drive you back out into the rain if you had to listen to it for a prolonged time. Very inspirational for the planning of Sandra’s Café (just a fantasy project – not taking bookings…).

Objective number 1 was to scale the Sgurr of Eigg – the highest point of the ridge of (what I assume is) a volcanic stump that goes from one end of the island to the other. We hiked damply and at random, following our noses and various colours of waymarking arrows. The map I had taken a photo of was no use at all, and neither were our own instincts. We stoated about, wondering about routes and timings and found ourselves in a good spot for a picture of the Sgurr… but decided to save the actual ascent for a return visit. It was all very atmospheric and moody. 

We had our picnic lunch in the grounds of a grand old house that is now some kind of eco centre, then we reoriented ourselves at the pier after passing a shindig in progress at the community hall. A busy wee day on the Island. 

Objective number 2 was to reach “Massacre Cave”. We studied the map a bit harder this time and made our way to the relevant trail. The map notes stated: “In 1510 the Mcleods smothered the entire population of 395 people in the cave of Uamh Fhraing; now known as Massacre Cave.” Grim. 

The rain stopped, the clouds lifted and the sun came out as we hiked at pace to the cave, keeping one eye on the clock so that we didn’t have a ferry fail at the last minute. Once we got to the edge of the island there was a grand-canyonesque descent to sea level, then a clamber round until we arrived at the cave. I am not into dark tourism – but I suppose this was it.

Glad to have found, been into and got out of the cave, we headed back to the pier for the ferry back to the mainland. 

So, reflections. What did I learn? What did it make me think?

It turns out that my daughter’s hiking boots are sadly inadequate. She was minutes away from her feet disintegrating. We need to go to Tiso. 

A map would have been useful. 

Eigg is having its 25th anniversary of community ownership and I think the evidence of community cooperation at the development at the pier is a “good thing”.  

Having a car on that island would not be handy, in my opinion. But there were some cars. So I am probably wrong.

It was another example of all seasons in one day in Scotland. I had thought that I was going to be irritated by my decision to bring my warm down jacket and be carrying it around all day on a hot July day. It turns out, for most of the day I was freezing and glad of it. And yet, my sister was glad of her vest top as it was gloriously sunny for the last hour. So, as ever, one learns that you need to take everything with you in Scotland, and that if you take it with you, you will need it. 

The whole Eigg thing brought back a lot of memories of HC1 1988 when I went on a Scripture Union Hebridean Cruise and we went to Rum and Muck. So, going to Eigg felt like I was completing the set. 

It makes me think about what island life would be like and how much anxiety I would have about not being near the mainland. The towns and villages on the mainland near Eigg are also pretty remote. The Proclaimers’ “Lochaber no more” lyric rings in my head and I wonder about the long term sustainability issues of these places – in terms of population, services and employment etc – and then, from that, thinking about bigger towns and cities and thinking about what needs to be in place for society to function and for economies to exist to support communities. At least there were some Calmac ferries in evidence, keeping tourists and locals moving. Makes a change. 

Would I go back? Yes – but hopefully on a drier day, with a pre-studied map and a full range of layers for a variety of temperatures and a full set of waterproofs, just in case.

Learning to Lose

I should have listened to my nephew who once told me the secret of losing weight. He said, after successfully transforming himself, “I used to eat too much of the wrong food.” Wise man.

I had got myself into a weird loop. Despite the fact that “everybody knows” that “you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet” – I was determined to try. Running, boot camp, gym sessions – even blinking swimming…. I literally could not have exercised any more and still held down my part time job. I needed to break the cycle. Or stop eating scones and pancakes. 

Scones.

Handily this crisis dovetailed with a “Biggest Loser” challenge at the bootcamp. So “numbers” were sprayed liberally around, the MyFitnessPal app was downloaded and the challenge began. 

Absolute comedy. In the early days I was sideswiped by a scone and betrayed by an omelette. When my brain finally got with the programme, I cut the fat and started chugging the protein – becoming one of those “I can’t eat enough protein” people that I always wondered about. 

“Lunch” 🙄

Pleasingly and unsurprisingly, when I stopped eating fat and started eating protein, the kilogrammes dutifully dropped off. Half a stone just gone. 

Today was the final weigh-in. In the last fortnight of the challenge I plateaued, then started losing again, then fell at the final hurdle and gained.  This did involve a full Scottish breakfast and quite a lot of cheese. So, it is no wonder. 

I am excited about the future now. There are dresses that have the hope of being worn again, and I am no longer mystified by my previous “inability” to lose weight. It turns out it isn’t rocket science, despite the fact that numbers are involved, which always put me off the counting thing. 

So, I am looking forward to a healthier balance between diet and exercise and I am also looking forward to summer snacks and treats, safe in the knowledge that they won’t take over as I can fend them off with a few strategic Ryvita crackers and a packet of prawns.

 I am hoping to have an ice cream tomorrow. I trust you are excited about that on my behalf. 

More calories than you’d think.

Helpful People

This is just narrative. Just saying. 

My drive home from ASDA did not go as planned. The clutch was being weird. Kind of stuck to the floor, a bit. Then it just stopped working. 

This was as I pulled up to a fairly popular T junction, at about quarter to 5… with the vain hope of going right. I couldn’t get into gear. Not a sausage. Sudden visions of traffic backing up from behind me, all the way back to ASDA; a memory triggered of a previous breakdown in an equally unhandy location, being told by a driver-by: “You can’t park here.” Eh, yuh.

Hazards on, I popped out on to a tiny island thing, abandoning ship. I whipped out my phone to inform the family that the ASDA snacks would be somewhat delayed. 

A split second later, a very helpful man offered to help me get it out of the way of the rush hour traffic, so I got back in, and steered as he pushed and I bumped it up on the pavement out of harm’s way and off he went. Thanks, Helpful Man!

Next on the to-do list was to call the AA. I rang them up and the automaton on the other end of the line suggested that the best thing to do was to request help online. I googled it, put in all my details, got to the SUBMIT page, and… nothing.

 So, I rang them up again and pressed 1 repeatedly until I got a human, who texted me a link… to the webpage with the broken SUBMIT button, so that was hopeless – but happily, the AA person was still on the line. He seemed surprised that I could know where I was without knowing the postcode. But I did, and he found me on the map. Happy days. 

The advice is not to sit in the car while you wait for the AA. Happily, I had a deck chair, a good book and a bootful of ASDA snacks to keep me going. So, I had a wee seat, a banana and a read at “The Pilgrim” in the sunshine. 

The AA man then phoned me up to say he would not be long. Seconds later, a friend happened upon me, wondering why I had decided to take a break at such a random location, then figured I must be in some kind of problematic situation. This was all very fortuitous. When she appeared, I had been on the phone, negotiating with my mother to come and rescue the ASDA shopping, so that I didn’t have to carry a whole load of shopping home from a hypothetical garage on a series of buses – but my friend then offered to ferry the groceries. Very kind. 

Within a few minutes, the AA man appeared. It was like I was in Mr Ben’s shop. “As if by magic…” and all cheerful and yellow was the van. So, he did his mechanic thing – intermittently muttering “hydraulics”, rummaging about and removing, then putting back lots of large bits of plastic – concurred that the clutch was indeed broken and a patch up job was not possible. He explained that since COVID, you were not allowed to just pitch up at a garage hopefully; he would have to tow me home, then we would have to book it in somewhere then call them out again to get it there. This would be less than ideal. 

This time Husband stepped in and found me a garage willing to accept me. So, my friend took off in her car, with my shopping, to rendezvous with us at the garage. The AA man hitched my car up to his van and gave me the necessary training to be towed, and off we went. It was something like a very, very dull rollercoaster ride. The garage accepted the car, and off I went, me and my ASDA shopping getting a lift all the way home.

As rescues go, this was a great one. Such a happy, sunshiny bubble of helpfulness in which to break down. Helped by Helpful Man, located by the call-centre man at the AA, encouraged by my mother, booked in by Husband, accepted by the garage, towed by the AA and delivered safely home by my friend. 

 Smashing. 

All this, of course, means that I am now reliant on the orange buses again. And, as we know, they are a rich seam of blogging material – staggeringly unreliable, gaily disregarding such details as routes and timetables. But I made it to work on time today, so that was good. And, eventually, I got home. 

That’s the narrative… I must justify the narrative with some kind of reflection… Here it is: people are great. People are helpful. No one wants anyone to bung up a key T-junction at 5pm. The AA membership was worth it. I am very thankful. 

Sweating In Kitchen Shops

We had a new hobby for 2022. Every Saturday we set out to go and sweat in a kitchen shop. Sometimes it was the price; sometimes it was the heat – but whichever it was, I miscalculated either my budget or my outfit and had a rivulet of sweat running between my shoulder blades by the end of the visit, either way.

 You’ll be glad to know we have settled on a kitchen design and supplier. My regular readers (which, were I to post actually regularly, could actually be that) will be delighted to hear that our kitchen design contains precisely zero corners, which is something of a miracle. But I am delighted. 

You would think that a kitchen shop would be a kitchen shop and that they would sell kitchens. But it’s weird. The three places we went were so, so different to one another. 

Our first port of call was a small but perfectly formed showroom full of lovely people and lovely kitchens. The design they came up with was pretty much how it looks now but with (much) more expensive cupboards. They had lovely brochures, their 3D renderings had our own art on the walls and our own view out of the windows. I just couldn’t get excited about the design though. And I certainly couldn’t get excited about the quote.

The second place we went to was like a kind of time warp/dystopia. There was literally no one there. There were bits missing from all the kitchens and drawers full of miscellaneous samples. Our physical visit was followed up by a zoom call with a man who presented as weary, unsupported and depressed. So, we moved on, trying to find people who wanted to sell us a kitchen. 

Our third place was this. They want to sell you a kitchen. They want to show you kitchens, let you stroke the surfaces, play with the cupboard interiors, sit on the bar stools. They also, as it turned out, wanted to have their heating up so high that it felt like Gran Canaria in mid July, except we were wearing clothes fit for Scotland in February. They wanted details, many many details to punch into their tablets, hung like messenger bags around their waists. This was a well oiled kitchen selling machine, and we could have felt like unsuspecting prey… but happily we wanted to buy a kitchen; they wanted to sell a kitchen. What a joy!

The stupid thing was that this was on the way home one Saturday from Kitchen Place number 1, and we thought we would pop in for a quick look round. But, there were still more and more questions for the tablet, while the temperature cranked up higher and higher. I started to shed layers. Did we want a sink the same material as the worktop or in a contrasting finish? Did we want a mixer tap, a quooker tap, a tap for carbonated water? Did we need a wine fridge, a warming drawer, an island? Colours, colours, colours… and we are like, eh, we are just having a look round but yes, admittedly we do, in fact want a kitchen.

Time passed. I wilted. The teenager we had in tow had also wilted. The boy with the tablet had not wilted and he had many, many more questions… I needed a seat (of which they had many), a coffee (and yes, they did offer, but at this stage in the day I just wanted to go home), and probably most importantly, a shower (not their remit)… It was weird that the kitchen boy was more interested in my new kitchen than I was.

For our return visit, I was better prepared, with more summery layers. The guy took us through his design which was a) revolutionary and b) exactly what I had asked for. He had listened about the no corners thing. He had listened about my wish to come in the back door and have a place to put things. He shuffled images about on his computer until I felt seasick looking at it and, boom. All good. Very exciting. 

And that’s what I was hoping for – to be excited about it. The first place was very lovely, but, with hindsight, a bit unimaginative. The second place, I just felt sorry for the man that worked there, but that’s not really reason enough to make a major purchase. So, with my free cool bag in my hand and a very, very, very detailed breakdown of hundreds of decisions that I hadn’t even known required to be made, we decided to go with the third place – on the grounds that they are really into selling kitchens and designed one I think will be good.

One of the major problems with the current kitchen is that it is ABSOLUTELY FREEZING for six months of the year, so, here’s hoping one day I can break sweat in a kitchen of my own. The dishwasher is still broken and washing dishes is now pretty much what I do in my spare time but we are hoping to get it fixed now that keeping it broken, as a strategy to motivate kitchen purchasing, has worked. 

Now that we have selected a kitchen it now means I have Saturday afternoons again. And one day soon I won’t have to spend those free afternoons doing the dishes.

The pictured kitchen isn’t the new kitchen, it’s just a shot from inside one of the kitchen shops. I just like teal. Generally.

Kitchen Clarity (… in which I consider what I love and hate about kitchens…)

We have cracked tiles, peeling plastic, an odd window ledge and a chronic issue with heating, so we are hopeful that 2022 will be a year to get our kitchen under control. It has done well, though: three children raised into three teenagers – suitably(ish) fed and watered and the laundry done. 

Brewing in the background is a debate about the merits of “clean lines and surfaces” versus “curated clutter on open shelving”, but we will leave that for the future. Today I want to think about great kitchens of the past and what drives me nuts about the kitchens I hate. 

Corner cupboards? I hate them. I especially hate them when they have oh-so-clever mechanisms that make them seem not really like a corner cupboard. I hate any kind of a whizzy wheel gadget or clunky basket contraption that supposedly brings all of your corner cupboard things out to be easily accessible. It is all a myth.

I have one corner cupboard that is like an honest corner cupboard, but I don’t even like it. I literally have to put on a head torch to get anything out of the further back half. And inside the cupboard, there is the opportunity for baking trays to fall down a hole into kitchen oblivion. The other corner cupboard is cursed with an over designed mechanism that just sticks, judders and generates rust, dust and still makes things nearly impossible to reach. Even with the items in view, the mechanism itself takes up so much space, I can’t hardly get anything out. So, no corner cupboards. 

What else do I hate? I hate “up” cuboards – at least the top shelf of them. I am short and cannae reach them. What is the point? They just get filled with things that are never used, so those things should be “gone through”, clearly. What is in my up cupboards? Excess snacks, plastic plates, water bottles that are no one’s favoured/used water bottles, nuts and dried fruit for baking I won’t get around to, calpol, random alcohol that we don’t drink, electrical gadgets that we don’t use, odd socks and impractical drinking vessels of every genre. Instead of wobbling about on a chair looking for birthday candles up a height, I would rather there was no ‘up a height’ to consider. 

This is all a bit negative. There are some things about kitchens that I love. The best kitchen I ever worked in was the camp kitchen in Ballater. It was all under canvas. The kitchen was a screened off corner of a massive marquee. The quartermaster’s store was adjacent to the kitchen. We had two big gas Dominator ovens, a water boiler, a Salamander grill, and every utensil you could ever want in full view on open shelves. Between the ovens and the shelves were four tables shoved together to make one massive table for prep. We had the purest of running water from a burn to a sink and a bucket under the plughole to catch the water. That was the dream. Had the design not been perfect, it could have been reconfigured – but every year, we set it up exactly the same way. It was weird, reaching for a ladle that you knew would be there, even although it had been in storage for the previous 48 weeks! The best feature of that kitchen was that, if it was too hot, you could take the walls down. No refrigeration was required; the butcher would deliver the meat as we needed it. Them were the days… (“Intents Catering: We’re in a field of our own”)

I think the trick to a great kitchen is the flow. You want the food to be in one place, then the prep to be in another, then the cooking, then the wash up, then the serving. So, I want to come in the back door with the shopping, then have the fridge and whatever storage immediately to hand, and so on.

Kitchens without that flow make me want to scream. I want an oven that is idiot proof, sharp knives, colour-coded chopping boards, a meat probe, useful things to hand and not banged up in the inaccessible reaches of corner cupboards. 

So that would be fine, if all a kitchen was was a kitchen. For us it is also a place for general kipplization. Shoes multiply. Bags, likewise. Jackets. Sport stuff. Jotters. Chargers. Bobbles. Masks. Bibles. Drying laundry. Baskets of clean laundry. The sweepy brush and mop. Bits of paper. Opened mail. Things that no one is claiming but no one feels like disposing of in case it is important. There is a whole transfer station zone that shouldn’t exist in an ideal world but kind of needs to exist for anyone to leave the house ready to go somewhere and do something. 

What are your biggest kitchen regrets? What was your best kitchen epiphany? When is a kitchen not a kitchen? Please share your ideas with me before I am in a space age corner-cupboard supposed utopia of clever storage solutions, wondering why I didn’t listen to myself.

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