Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Three Politically Correct Guys


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December 28, 2014 · 11:19

A case of mistaken identity


from “The Mirror”, 25 December 2014



A school boy thought he was all set to play Joseph Stalin in the end of term play – but it turned out he was supposed to be Joseph of Nazareth.

Russian pupil Ilya Gavrichenko told his parents he was playing the Soviet despot, and so as requested, they made his outfit, including army boots, the red stripe on his military trousers, and a marshal’s jacket.

“We even got him a perfect moustache,” said his father Fedor, from St Petersburg. “We were all ready for him to be a success.”

It was only when they arrived at the performance that the horrified parents realised this was a nativity play and their 12-year-old son was supposed to play a very different role – Joseph of Nazareth.

“He was supposed to accompany the Virgin Mary but there was no time to change the outfit,” said his father.

“Each time he went out on stage, the mothers were in hysterics, crying and yowling from somewhere under their chairs.

“My son was lost because of mixing up the part he was playing, and feeling guilty for having done so.”



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Silent Night – as arranged by John Cage


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December 25, 2014 · 07:53

Joseph the Farmer

Extract from “Cider with Rosie” by Laurie Lee


Mile after mile we went, fighting against the wind, falling into snowdrifts, and navigating by the lights of the houses. And yet we never saw our audience. We called at house after house; we sang in courtyards and porches, outside windows, or in the damp gloom of hallways; we heard voices from hidden rooms; we smelt rich clothes and strange hot food; we saw maids bearing in dishes or carrying away coffee cups; we received nuts, cakes, figs, preserved ginger, dates, cough-drops and money; but we never once saw our patrons.

Eventually we approached our last house high up on the hill, the place of Joseph the farmer. For him we had chosen a special carol, which was about the other Joseph, so that we always felt that singing it added a spicy cheek to the night.

We grouped ourselves round the farmhouse porch. The sky cleared and broad streams of stars ran down over the valley and away to Wales. On Slad’s white slopes, seen through the black sticks of its woods, some red lamps burned in the windows.

Everything was quiet: everywhere there was the faint crackling silence of the winter night. We started singing, and we were all moved by the words and the sudden trueness of our voices. Pure, very clear, and breathless we sang:

‘As Joseph was a-walking
He heard an angel sing;
‘This night shall be the birth-time
Of Christ the Heavenly King.
He neither shall be born
In Housen nor in hall
Not in a place of paradise
But in an ox’s stall …..


And two thousand Christmases became real to us then; The houses, the halls, the places of paradise had all been visited; The stars were bright to guide the Kings through the snow; and across the farmyard we could hear the beasts in their stalls. We were given roast apples and hot mince pies, in our nostrils were spices like myrrh, and in our wooden box, as we headed back for the village, there were golden gifts for all

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More Blessed to Give……


Josh Paler Lin – who is better known for his video pranks –  approaches the grey-haired homeless man, who is begging on the side of a highway. He gives him $100 in cash — much to the man’s shock. The man asks if he can hug Paler Lin, who lets him.

But Paler Lin had a hidden agenda. He wanted to see what the man, named Thomas, would do with the cash. Certainly he isn’t the only one to wonder if homeless people mostly spend their money on booze, cigarettes, drugs, etc.

Paler Lin’s camera guy follows Thomas as he leaves his begging spot and — sure enough — walks straight into a liquor store.

When he comes out holding a couple of large black bags, Thomas does seem to have lived up to the stereotype.

But as Paler Lin and his cohort follow the man into a park, they witness something astonishing. Take a look:



Of course, the video could be a set up — the whole plotline is almost too perfect. The way he is mostly concerned about feeding his fellow homeless? The way he doesn’t even know them?

Others would say it’s pretty low to follow the guy around. It was his money to do what he pleased with it. And what if he had bought liquor? Might this not stop others from giving? Would he have put that on YouTube as well?

But! Whether or not the video was 100 percent spontaneous, the homeless guy does appear to be very real, and Paler Lin has set up an online fund for him, which has already raised $21,000, more than double its goal.

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Prince Alexis

An old Russian tale tells of Prince Alexis 

He lived in a luxurious palace, while all around him the peasantry existed in squalor, poverty, and misery.

Alexis was moved with compassion at their plight, and wanted to help in some way.

 He left his luxurious surroundings, and walked amongst them, but he had no point of real contact.  They were in awe of him, and treated him with great deference and respect.

 Therefore, he could not win their confidence or affection.

 His visit to them proved futile, and he returned to the palace, a defeated and disappointed man.

 Some time later, a very different man came among the people.  He was rough and ready, with no airs or graces.  He was a doctor who wanted to devote his life to helping the poor.

 He rented a vermin-infested shack, and lived amongst them.  He wore old and tattered clothes.  He ate plain, simple, peasant food, and, most times, he did not know where his next meal would come from.

He made no money because he treated the people free, and gave away his medicines.

 Consequently, he won great respect and was loved by the people in quite a different way to their Prince, Alexis.

 He was one of them.  And he managed to transform the place.  Not only did he minister to them as their doctor; he also settled quarrels and reconciled enemies.  He helped make better lives.

 Eventually, of course, his secret was discovered.  The doctor was none other then Prince Alexis himself.  Alexis had deliberately abandoned the palace and gone down to the people and lived amongst them……to fully identify with them in their need and in their suffering, in order to help them and make their lives happier and stronger.

 Jesus said ‘I have come to give life, life in all its fullness, life in abundance.’  In Jesus Christ, God left his lofty heavenly home, to come down into the human condition – to be like us – to be for us and with us…..God Incarnate….Emmanuel…..whose coming we greet at this Holy time.

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This is Church

Free Meals Project

2015 is going to be a big year for Dumfries Northwest Church. From 1 February the Free Meals Project will be seven days a week. We’ll be offering free meals every day of the week including Sundays. The last few years have shown us that poverty is far more complex than simple economics. The whole shape of the project will change and we’ll be bringing in extra Drop In sessions on two different weekday mornings as well as the Friday Afternoon Drop In which we run in partnership with the Scottish Prison Service. In addition to these two Drop Ins, there will be a Knitting Project which will run initially on Tuesday afternoons and anyone with the skills (or desire to learn) to knit will be welcome to be part of this. Apart from providing company for those involved this will be an important adjunt to our Free Clothing Project which operates in parallel with the Free Meals Project. The successful ‘meal and a film’ evenings we have offered in the past and during this Christmas season will continue as another expression of the Free Meals Project idea which seeks to meet and to serve everyone wherever they are. The Thursday afternoon service which offers something vitally important to those who are semi-housebound also stems from the Matthew 25 vision which informs all that we do. Ministry in this area will also be extended and developed.

At the moment, the Free Meals Project offers a free, hot, healthy meal, lunch-time and evening, Monday to Saturday, 12:00 and 16:30, and food-parcels are available to anyone who needs them on Sundays. The Free Meals Project runs 52 weeks a year including Christmas and New Year. The ‘Family Meals Project’ is integrated into it too. Parents are welcome to bring their children. We are responding to a very real need in the community.

This project is unique in the area, not simply because of the number of meals it offers but because it is driven by a theological imperative which comes from Matthew 25,

‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

We do not evangelise or see the Free Meals Project as an outreach opportunity. We have come to understand it as sacramental. The sharing of real food sanctifies what we do symbolically in worship. This is not faith in practice. This is faith as practice.

It is expensive to run this project. While we are very grateful to the NHS, Dumfries and Galloway Housing Project and to many other organisations and individuals for financial support, the project is independent. No-one receives a salary. It runs at a very significant cost to Dumfries Northwest Church and we depend entirely upon those within and outside of the congregation to offer financial support. A donation of as little as £10.00 will enable us to do so much for people in the community.

You can donate by sending cheques to

Dumfries Northwest Church Office
Free Meals Project
Lochside Road

or online.

Please note that a donation to the Free Meals Project will only be used in the Free Meals Project. Your donation will not be used to finance other areas of the Church’s work.


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What the Dickens?



Charles Dickens has influenced the way we celebrate Christmas in so many ways.

His 1843 masterpiece, “A Christmas Carol”, influenced our Christmas customs and created many new Festive traditions.

His description of the season recaptured the spiritual elements of the Grand Miracle.

One of the characters says: “It is a good time: a kind and forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passenger to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

None of us want to be seen as a grumpy, stingy  Scrooge. It is really a book about redemption as God comes and shows Ebenezer just what a misery-guts he has become. His whole life is transformed and through it our celebration reaches down to transform us too.

Scrooge is totally altered on the inside and begins to express his newfound faith outwardly by sharing his wealth with his employee’s family and provides for the medical treatment of their son Tiny Tim.

It is a wonderful story for children and adults who need to know that a person can be changed by the power of the Spirit at any age.

Other people also influenced the revival of our Merry Christmas celebrations. Prince Albert brought the German custom of decorating the Yuletide Tree to Britain.

Christmas cards were invented for people who had new jobs due to the Industrial Revolution.

The singing of Christmas Carols developed as ordinary people formed a market for songs that could be harmonized.

And we need to point out that the mighty influence of the Wesleyan Revival brought about a more Scripturally based and celebratory expectancy as the days toward Christmas grew closer.

Christmas became a time when the Spirit of God could bring new life to the many would-be Scrooges. A sense of great expectation has become a real part of our celebrations.

Great Expectations are an integral part of our New Testament story of the coming of Christ.

There had not been a prophet of Israel for hundreds of years and the people longed for a fulfilment of the Old Testament’s apocalyptic vision of a Messiah.

They first had hopes that John the Baptist was the Messiah, but although he was a charismatic and popular preacher who was well received, he made a quick disclaimer that one much greater than him was coming soon as the Messiah. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with power.” proclaimed John.

Another Dickens novel, Great Expectations, tells the story of the young man Pip who longs to someday rise up out of poverty and become an English Gentleman. Pip finally receives a large sum from a will and is able to realize his longed for dream.

Dickens captures the experience of longing, expectation, eager anticipation, intense desire and hope that is such a great aspect of our Advent/Christmas spirit of soon- to-be fulfilled promises.

Pip’s great expectations are presented by Dickens as another aspect of the Christian process of redemption. We have to see our need for salvation before we can have it.

Likewise, Ebenezer Scrooge came to realize that his sin was separating him from his fellow human beings, and his God, and was given a life changing desire for new life and redemption.

The Christmas season is a time of heightened awareness of just how much we need God in our lives and a reminder of how He has sent His Son to save us. The Christmas story is the story upon which all other stories hang.

And what greater way to begin the greatest story ever told than with a baby? Everybody loves a baby!

God used a baby as a way of showing us that new life creates new life. The old miser Scrooge was given new life through the new life that Jesus brought into our realm. And what greater expectancy do we experience than during the nine months that we await the arrival of a precious little child?

We all have great expectations – thank God they are fulfilled by the baby of Bethlehem and the Risen and Reigning Christ who satisfies all our needs and answers all our desires.

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Christmas Day, 1959

This is a story from 55 years ago – the 25th December 1959, Christmas Day,  when I was 12 years of age (I’m 67 now – for those of you who arithmetically challenged!)

We weren’t what would be called a “comfortably-off” family in those days.  Financially, it was sometimes a bit of a struggle

 And for that particular Christmas, I wasn’t holding out much hope for anything particularly lavish

 OK – to our story.  It must have been about five in the morning when I got up in the freezing cold. And, boy, was it cold!  We didn’t have central heating in those days – and fires were only set in the bedroom when one was sick and confined to bed.

 There was a coal fire in the sitting room, but, being the early hour it was, last night’s cold ashes hadn’t yet been raked up, nor the day’s new fire assembled and lit.

In the dark, I crept downstairs and into the sitting-room.  By the fireplace was a selection of gifts.

 I have to say that it was with little enthusiasm that the wrapping paper was removed from each present.  A book, a selection box, some chocolate coins in gold foil, a pair of school socks (wow!).  And that seemed to be it.

 Oh, apart from a very small package which I left until last, considering it unworthy of my attention. It would be, no doubt, nothing very exciting.

 By this time, my Mother and Father had appeared from upstairs “Aren’t you going to open it?” Dad said, his breath visible in the chill air as he spoke.

 “I suppose so”, I replied… churlishly.  And the smallest, most insignificant-looking package was opened to reveal a wondrous miracle.  Inside a gold cardboard flip top box, was a pale green coloured Pye transistor radio.

 Oh, the surprise!  Oh, the delight!  Oh, the wonder of tuning in during those early hours of the morning to Radios Luxembourg, Athlone, Hilversum and a host of other exotic places.

What wonder!  To be able to hear over the still night airwaves songs of joy, carols of exultation, music of the angels played by far-off folk in strange-sounding places.

 The cold was forgotten, the gloom was dispersed, and there was laughter – joyful laughter on that beautiful morning.

 And to think that I had ignored what at first glance had seemed to be the most insignificant, the smallest and the least important gift on that Christmas morn

….but what would prove to be one of the most cherished, loved and valued possessions ever bestowed upon me

 ….given by the father who loved me and who had obviously sacrificed so much to bring such light and joy into my life that day.


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