Monthly Archives: June 2015


A popular film of a few years ago, and a very funny comedy it was too, was  ‘The Producers’.




It tells the story of two unscrupulous men, played by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, who set up a financial scam to make money out of what they feel will be a certain Broadway musical flop.

The play in question is entitled ‘Springtime for Hitler’.  And the opening musical number ‘Springtime for Hitler and Germany’ complete with chorus girls in Nazi uniforms is in the worst possible taste imaginable.

The show, however, is a success, and the Producers lose all their money, ending up in jail for fraud.


That film was, of course, fiction, but in reality it seems that what many would consider to be in bad taste is successful and popular.

Recently, I watched a film about Liberace-  the pianist with the twinkle in his eye, the flamboyant costumes, and the signature candelabra.

He was vulgar, outrageously over the top, tasteless, and, frankly creepy, but was one of the most popular and best-paid acts of his generation.



One might argue, however, that Liberace’s brand of tastelessness was contrived and harmless, but what of other examples of bad taste in the media –

  • Think of the crude and sexist comedy of Roy “Chubby” Brown, the outrageous humour of Frankie Boyle, the “Mr Creosote” section in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” and so on and on ad nauseam (sic….sick!)
  • What about art?  Tracey Emin’s prize-winning exhibit of an unmade bed.  Or what of Damien Hirst’s pickled cows?  Is that art or exploitation?  Is it, on another level, another example of bad taste?
  • At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe a few years ago one of the highlights was the Jim Rose Circus, described as the sickest show on earth, involving as it did self-mutilation and other unpleasant sounding turns.



Art, entertainment, or something depraved and in the worst possible taste?  How do we discern?

In the Arts – and that’s a broad spectrum –  how does one pick a good play from the rubbish, what makes for a decent concert, how do you judge a good piece of art from a shoddy one?

How do we discern what is best?

In Psalm 119 at verse 66, we find these words ‘Teach me good judgement and knowledge’ – which could also be translated ‘Teach me good taste’

How acceptable for today’s society and for this cultural climate in which the unacceptable is so often lauded, and the acceptable is so often scorned; where the cheap and shoddy are held up as examples for us all, and the beautiful and fine and lovely are dismissed as worthless.

‘May you grow more in true knowledge and perfect judgement, so that you will be able to choose what is best.,

These words also come from the Bible – from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

May you grow more in true knowledge and perfect judgement, SO THAT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO CHOOSE WHAT IS BEST

Is the religious person more able to discern what is best, better than the non-religious man or woman?  Give me good taste – does the religious person have better critical faculties than those who profess no faith?

I don’t think we can exactly say that, but what we can say is this: the surest guide to discerning what is good, true and lovely and of worth is what is spiritually uplifting.



There is a novel by Iris Murdoch with a passage in it about a visit to an art gallery.  It is an account of a deeply artistic experience.

Seeing the painting is ‘something real, something perfect’

The heroine of the story goes away feeling ‘favoured, encouraged, loved’ She felt looking at this painting that she ‘had had a revelation’

A revelation!  You could hardly get a more religious word than that.  She felt that she had been allowed to see a deep mystery, had touched the very secret of life itself.

The secret of life itself.  Revelation.  Could these be useful ways of speaking about the arts?

In that Iris Murdoch novel, so profound and so powerful is the revelation itself – that the artist’s own beliefs fade into the background.


What art is about is the holiest and most human places in our lives, the very centre of existence itself.  That is what makes art matter and matter hugely; that is what any arts festival should be about.  And these very things are things about which Christians have something to say.

For the centre of the Christian claim is nothing less than this: whatever is really real, whatever is the secret of life, whatever holds the universe together – that is what meets us in Jesus Christ.

In him, the creative life that has been from the beginning takes form and speaks and loves and heals and suffers.

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God…and the word became a human being and dwelt among us…..

…..And may all that we do, say, think, – be acceptable in his sight, and be to his glory forever

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'Due to our failure to secure a holiday-relief organisty, the next hymn will also be sung to the tune of Chopsticks.'

‘Due to our failure to secure a holiday-relief organisty, the next hymn will also be sung to the tune of Chopsticks.’

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the past is Orange

I have no time for the Orange Order but banning its festival is not the right response
Published on 4 June 2015  The Herald Newspaper

Iain Macwhirter
Orangemen need a “clause four” moment to prove they’ve changed.

I remember my first experience of an Orange Walk. I was in a student flat in Edinburgh’s Leith when I was woken at some unearthly hour of the afternoon by loud banging. It sounded like someone was demolishing the tenement.

I craned out of the window to see curious folk with orange sashes and bowlers shouting offensive remarks about the Pope, throwing sticks in the air and hurling threats at residents waving the Irish Tricolour from their windows. The banging was from the Lambeg Drum, an instrument designed to resonate off tenement walls and instil fear.

I later learned that I was dossing in a supposedly Catholic area of town and this was one of many Orange walks. I’d had a sheltered atheist upbringing in which such things as religious sectarianism were unknowable. This was one aspect of 20th century working class culture that didn’t appeal.

The “walk” was more like an army of occupation, which is pretty much what the Orange Order is, or used to be, all about: it is about promoting and defending Protestant supremacy. The paramilitary standards, flutes and drums were primarily about intimidation.

Later when I was working for the BBC in the 1980s I frequently faced the Big Daddy of Protestant sectarianism: the annual July 12th celebrations of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, in which King Billy – William of Orange – overwhelmed the Catholic supporters of James V11th (James 11 in England).

I suppose this was celebrating community in one sense, but it mainly seemed to be about getting very drunk and trying to provoke fights. In fact I vividly remember seeing what could only be described as a riot in central Glasgow with broken heads and windows.

I was amazed that this didn’t dominate the evening news and the next day’s papers. I was advised by a BBC colleague that the broadcasters tended to underplay these events in the interest of public safety and not provoking further violence.

I don’t believe this was ever editorial policy in the BBC, but it seemed to me to be a form of self-censorship. It was as if Scotland just couldn’t face up to its sectarianism, which until pretty recently we frankly couldn’t.

And so we come to this weekend’s Orangefest, a celebration of the “history and culture” of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland which will take place in George Square with Glasgow Council’s blessing on Saturday.

The Order presents itself as an “ethnic minority” with a right to hold its own cultural celebration. Let’s hope other tribes don’t come to celebrate theirs.

We’re assured that breaking heads will not be part of Orangefest, but the big Lambeg drum will be. “Big Drums are part of our culture”, said Edward Hyde, Grand Master of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Glasgow on BBC radio yesterday. The Black Skull Corps of Fife and Drum will be there, along with face-painting and no doubt a bouncy Londonderry Castle.

Orangefest also allows the boys to hold an extra Orange walk this year through the centre of the city. Will there be songs that could be illegal if sung at a football ground?

There has been outrage at all of this. Yesterday alone 20,000 people signed a petition calling on the event to be disowned by the council and even banned. “The Klu Klux Klan wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate its culture in George Square” said one. “The Order is no more the voice of Protestantism than the Provisional IRA is the voice of Catholicism, or ISIS of Sunni Islam”, said a comment piece on Bella Caledonia.

The SNP opposition on Glasgow City Council don’t seem too happy either at giving civic reception to the Orangemen. Nationalists are still smarting from the events of September 19 last year, when Loyalists invaded George Square tearing up saltires and giving Nazi salutes to the Yes supporters.

And it’s true that the Orange Order is a sectarian organisation in that it doesn’t allow Catholics to join; not that I imagine they’d be queuing up so do to. But I’m not sure banning is the right response. If every organisation that insisted its members abide by its core beliefs were to be outlawed then we would be banning lots of religious organisations.

I loathe everything that the Orange Order has stood for in the past. But it claims that it is no longer a militant organisation and that it no longer seeks confrontation with Catholics. People will scoff at this, and perhaps with justification.

However, it is not all that long ago since the Church of Scotland itself was militantly anti-Catholic. In the 1920s, Kirk figures openly called Catholic immigrants “vermin” and “carriers of disease”. The Kirk is no longer a sectarian organisation, though it still expects its members to be Protestant.

Religious sects and far-right organisations like the Orange Order thrive on persecution. Denying them expression only strengthens them, lends mystique, even martyrdom. Putting them in the spotlight – like putting the former BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time – exposes them to ridicule and scrutiny. It shows us what they really are.

So I say: let the Orange Order hold their festival on Glasgow, provided it is peaceful. Police Scotland say that it is “low risk” and who am I to argue with that? Let’s see what it is about their culture that they really want to celebrate.

No doubt we will hear all about how Mozart was a freemason and how Dr Barnardo, of the children’s homes, was an Orangeman; and that King Billy was fighting against dynastic tyranny.

It’s true that William of Orange was, indeed, responsible for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which led to the Bill of Rights, the end of absolutism and the foundation of our democratic constitution.

The Jacobite rebellions are still celebrated by some Scottish nationalists. Yet Bonny Prince Charlie was attempting to restore to the UK the Stuarts and reverse the achievements of 1688; at least that’s how many Lowland Scots like the philosopher David Hume saw it.

Somehow, I’m not sure this is quite the history that the Orange Order thinks it’s celebrating. But fair dos. Organisations can change. However, they need to make positive signs that they have reconciled themselves with their own sectarian past.

So here’s a challenge to the new, inclusive, non-sectarian Orange Order. How about a statement on Saturday that it would support repeal of the 1701 Act of Settlement that prevents a Catholic from acceding to the UK throne? Call it the Orangemen’s “clause four” moment.

What better way to show that the Order really is simply celebrating the positive aspects of Protestant culture and history, and not sectarian division?

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My late Uncle Alex worked for the National Coal Board in their offices in Edinburgh at Lauriston Place.

At pavement level in one of the windows of the building there was a picture advertising the Coal Board’s principal product, and a slogan along the lines of: ‘There’s nothing like a real fire’

This was kind of ironic as the Fire Station was right next to them!

That Fire Station is no longer operational, but remains as a museum.

It always had an attraction to me when, as a youngster, I would visit Uncle Alex in his offices next door..

I enjoy watching youngsters, girls and boys, at the Dumfries & Galloway Fire Brigade’s Open Day at Brooms Road, as it always brings back a lot of happy memories.

I wonder how many of these kids posing in front of the fire engines for photographs, had, like me all these years ago a great aspiration to grow up and be a fire fighter?







The old fire station in Lauriston Place in Edinburgh contained just about everything there was to engage a young boy’s imagination There were the bright red gleaming fire engines into which we were able to climb.  There were the lockers with all the fire-fighter’s coats and helmets There was all sorts of other equipment, each item having some fascinating use for a small and wonder filled boy.

But most of all, there were just the grandest thing – a gleaming fire pole down which the firemen would slide from their quarters above down to the ground floor where the fire engines were.  Oh the excitement of it all!

Certainly, to be a fireman would have just about been the best thing ever!

Of course, there are the long hours of training, long shifts away from home, the long boring hours when nothing is happening Then there is the tough physical conditioning,, and oh yes, lest I not forget, the danger of fighting fires!

Well, as a kid, I thought that maybe, I could just pretend to be a fireman.

What if I went out and bought a red fire-helmet and boots and a heavy fireman’s jacket And maybe I could find a used fire truck

And in my house, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to install a brass pole from the first to the ground floor Then I could look like a fireman, act like a fireman, drive a fire-truck, ring the bell and blow the siren, install a brass fire pole, and slide down it each time I wanted to go to the ground floor.  I could even tell fire stories But in the end, I might fool some people, and maybe even fool myself — The truth would be, that if I refused to put out fires, I would NEVER be a fireman.

You can have all the trappings and all the equipment, but if you do not put out fires, then you cannot be a real fire fighter.




What is true of the fire brigade is true of the Church and of religion.

We may sing our hymns with vigour, pray our prayers with fervour, hear the Scripture eagerly, but if we leave it at that and do not put into action what we profess, then it’s a shallow exercise.

We may have the finest of Church buildings and most beautiful of sanctuaries, the most ornate pulpits and altars, and the loveliest of stained glass windows, but if we do not live a godly life outside of these walls, loving God and our neighbour in the name of Jesus Christ, then we are not a Church.

In the Old Testament, in the book of the prophet Micah, there is a famous passage in which the people think that true religion lies in the type and quality of sacrifice they make before the altar.

Micah answers that the real demands of God on humankind are moral and spiritual, and the proper worship of God is a life obedient to them.

He says ‘With what shall I come before the Lord?  …..  He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’

And then we hear Jesus repeat so much of this scripture in his ministry and indeed, add to it in an ever deeper call to love God through loving our neighbour when he speaks of the greatest commandment — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

If we, who claim to be Christians, do not have that fire in our heart, that zeal in our heart, that burning desire in our heart to live for others, as Christ lived for us, then we are like the fire – fighter who has all the gear, all the equipment, all the resources, but refuses to fight fires.

The picture of a laughing little boy on a gleaming fire pole is a joyous memory which is deeply cherished, but it is nothing more than a faded picture when compared to the joyous realm of the kingdom. A kingdom which is revealed to us by a loving Redeemer, when we truly seek to love and honour God.  May God give us the courage to seek to worship him in the very best way we can.

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The Most Dangerous Man on the Planet!

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Lost in the desert (a joke by Mohammed Zeyara)


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Short Homily for Father’s Day: “Will I be Missed?”

A particular family had three small children who were determined to have their own little puppy.  Their Mother protested because she knew that somehow or other, she would end up caring for the pup.  The children solemnly promised that they would take care of it.  Finally she relented and they brought their little puppy home.  They named him Danny and cared for him diligently – at first.  However, sure enough, as time passed, their Mother found herself becoming increasingly responsible for taking care of the dog.  Finally, she decided that the children were not living up to their promise so she began to search for a new home for Danny.  When she found one and broke the news to the children, she was quite surprised that they had almost no reaction at all.  One of them even said rather matter-of-factly, “We’ll miss him.”

“I’m sure we will,” Mum answered, “but he is too much work for one person and since I’m the one that has to do all the work, I say he goes.”

“But,” protested another child, “if he wouldn’t eat so much and wouldn’t be so messy, could we keep him?”

Mum held her ground, “It’s time to take Danny to his new home.”

Suddenly, with one voice and with tears in their eyes, the children exclaimed, “Danny?  We thought you said Daddy!”

Well, okay, perhaps being too much work for one person, eating too much and being too messy around the house are not qualities of the ideal father.  However, I am sure there are none of us who would deny the effects that our parents, including our fathers, have had on each of us, for better or for worse.


In 1999, the US Open was won  by the American golfer, Payne Stewart, only a few months before he was killed in a plane crash.




In the early 80’s, Payne appears to have been a real pain with a rather unpleasant sort of personality.

However, after the death of his father in 1985, he gradually changed and became a kinder and gentler person.  Then, in 1993, his best friend and fellow golfer Paul Azinger battled the same cancer that took his father’s life.  And in the months before his death, he was quoted as saying, “I’m a lot more mature and happier.  I’ve learned what’s really important.”  He also cited a new-found faith to which he said he was drawn by the involvement of his children.  And when he won the Open , beating out Phil Mickelson in a thrilling finish, he took Mickelson’s face in his hands and talked to him about the priorities which he had discovered.  Mickelson, whose wife gave birth to their first child the next day, put it this way:

“When he grabbed my face and spoke to me about fatherhood, it changed my feeling about the disappointment I had just felt…to what’s more important in my life, the birth of this child and influencing this person in this world.  And, Payne made it very apparent that that was what was more important to him too.  Even though he had just won the greatest event in the game of golf, I sensed that he was more fulfilled by being a father to Aaron and Chelsea, and a husband to his wife Tracy, than he was by winning this tournament.”

Before he died so tragically, and at the pinnacle of his career, Stewart had got his act together, caused in part by the death of his father.  And he himself had made a profound effect on the lives of his family and friends.

Paul Azinger in his moving tribute at Stewart’s memorial, quoted Stewart as saying: “I want to make sure my life is special while I’m here.  You will be remembered, but will you be missed?”

Yes, Stewart will be remembered by his family and friends.  And he will be missed.  But I think the question he asked is the same question that each of us needs to ask ourselves: will I be missed?  Just as he used the opportunities he had been given to make sure that he would be missed, I would suggest that every one of us not miss the opportunities we have to tell one another that we love them, as Christ loves them, and to live and behave accordingly, as in the sight of God

That way, we will be remembered … and we will be missed later.

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“Damn Yankees”

 (Proper 13B )

John 6 verses 24-35

After Jesus fed the multitudes, these five thousand men wanted a repeat miracle.

But Jesus quite bluntly said to them, as we heard today, that they should be thinking more about God’s wonderful grace, rather than their stomachs.

How true that can be – when we think more of own comfort rather than our souls.

No wonder so many people today are discontented, lacking the vision to see beyond their immediate and personal physical needs.

In the 1950s, there was a popular musical called ‘Damn Yankees’



The leading character is a middle-aged man named Joe Boyd, who from childhood has dreamed of becoming a famous baseball player.

Then it happens – one night a mysterious character, a Mr Applegate, walks into Joe’s life, and tells him that he has the power to make Joe’s dream a reality.

Mr Applegate can turn middle-aged Joe Boyd into ‘Joe Hardy’ a young, athletic and gifted baseball player who will transform the team, and take them to dizzy new heights.

At this point, we had better note that the mysterious Mr Applegate is none other than the devil in human form.

Joe, of course, soon learns that there’s a catch to all this.

In exchange for stardom, he must sell his soul to the devil.  (c.f. Dr Faustus)

Joe finds the offer impossible to refuse.  He agrees to it, but on one condition: that he can back out of the agreement, if he wishes, just before the team has secured the championship.

The devil, believing that once Joe has tasted success, he’ll never want to give it all up, agrees to his request,

So Joe writes a short note, kisses his sleeping wife goodbye, and leaves home to begin his new life.

And what a life!  He becomes an overnight success.  Fans cheer him wildly, youngsters idolise him, and older people think of him as the son or grandson they’ve always wanted to have.

Joe relishes every moment of it.

Gradually, however, something unexpected happens to Joe.  All the fame and fortune begin to grow stale.  Deep down inside him there is an emptiness that he cannot quite explain.

Finally, the deadline date with the devil arrives.  The prospect of major success for the team is there.  But, after much soul searching, Joe invokes the get-out clause in his deal with the devil, and gives it all up.

Perhaps, at the back of his mind, he hears the echo of Christ’s words: ‘what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself’

Whatever the reason, Joe disappears from the baseball world as mysteriously as he arrived.

A few days later, he turns up at his home again, kisses his wife, and goes back to being Joe Boyd again, the middle-aged man who once dreamed of being a baseball star.



The fictional Joe Boyd would surely agree wholeheartedly with what Jesus says to the crowd in today’s Gospel:

‘Do not work for the food that goes bad, instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life…

 I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never be thirsty’

What Christ is saying, what Joe Boyd experienced, can be summed up in a single sentence: ‘the human heart has a hunger and a thirst that nothing on earth can satisfy’

Only Jesus Christ brings true satisfaction.  For he is truly the bread of life.


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