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Thought for the Day - Alastair McIntosh

 

As Broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland or Radios 2 & 4

 

 

Dates forthcoming 2017: scheduled for Fri 24 Mar, Wed 17 May & Thur 29 Jun.

 

 

Click links below for recent contributions to "Thought for the Day" (Radio Scotland) or "Prayer for the Day" (Radio 4). These thoughts only go back to June 2014, as most of the others, going back to 2005, have been published as Parables of Northern Seed by the Iona Community's Wild Goose Publications.

 

 

Radio Scotland's Thoughts for the Day can be heard for up to 30 days on Listen Again

for Good Morning Scotland, at about 1 hr 24 mins into the programme. The scripts of recent contributions are shown below.

 

                            

127. 17 May 2017 - Sheep worrying and Good Shepherds

 

126. 24 March 2017 - Westminster terror attack, and the Rain Maker story

 

125.  9 Februrary 2017 - Prayer in spiritual activism at Standing Rock

 

124. 13 December 2016 - The future of work

 

123. 15 November 2015 - The supermoon of life

 

122. 27 October 2016 - JM Barrie's Mary Rose

 

122. 4 August 2016 - Suicide Squad movie: evil and redemption

 

121. 26 July 2016 - BHS, Isle of Harris, and the "unacceptable face of capitalism"

 

120. 15 May 2016 - Religious hate talk and the Orlando LGBT massacre

 

119. 3 May 2016 - Fr Daniel Berrigan, anti-war activist, and political charisma

 

118. 7 April 2016 - JM Barrie, Mary Rose, childhood and old age

 

117. 27 October 2015 - Tax credit benefits and hunger in today's Britain

 

116. 2 October 2015 - 70th Anniversary of Christian Aid

 

115. 3 September 2015 - Refugees, and Softening the Human Heart

 

114. 30 July 2015 - Canoe Trip to the Monks of Borerary and Kinghorn RNLI  [Listen here]]

 

113. 27 May 2015 - Oscar Romero's liberation theology of land reform [Listen here]

 

112. 7 April 2015 - The "People of the Cross" - violence in the name of God

 

111. 26 February 2015 - "How the mighty have fallen" - Christine A.M. Davis & Malcolm Rifkind [Listen here]

 

110. 22 January 2015 - After Charlie Hebdo - the Muslim Good Samaritan

 

109. 21 November 2014 - Obesity and food culture

 

108. 31 October 2014 - The Young Man in the Fairy Knoll

 

107. 28 August 2014 - From Revenge to Cycle of Forgiveness - Alyas Karmani & Mpho Tutu

 

106. 24 August 2014 - BBC Radio 2 Moment for Reflection - Miann, the ardent desire (Listen here)

 

105. 5 August 2014 - The Referendum TV debate and wrestling with the angels of the nations

 

104. 9 July 2014 - Overcoming Sectarianism in Scotland's Act of Union with England (1707)

 

103. 19 June 2014 - President Rouhani's (of Iran) Scottish education

 

(Earlier contributions going back to 2005 are not now shown here as they're in the book.)

 

********************* 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 17 May 2017 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

Across rural Scotland, the lambing season has just ended. For the past couple of months, there’s been men and women out till after dark, and rising well before the sun, to help their sheep in labour.

These midwives of the fields are hefted, or bonded, to their flocks just as much as sheep are hefted to the hill. That faithfulness, that interdependent relationship, is why Jesus loved the image of the Good Shepherd.

As one of the stories goes, when he found the lost sheep, “he laid it on his shoulders - rejoicing.”*

These days, much of farming as a way of life goes on beneath the radar of the urban world. The rest of us perhaps turn up from cities in our cars to exercise our dogs. We open the doors amidst green fields. And wham!

Whoever would have thought that the beloved family mutt still had the killer instincts of the wolf.

A recent report said that 15,000 sheep in the UK are lost each year to dogs getting out of control.**

It can happen so very easily, especially given disconnects between the town and countryside. By way of personal example, my father was a doctor, and in 1960 we moved from a mainland town to the Isle of Lewis. We loved Bliss, our pet Alsatian, but shortly after settling in she took off one day and savaged seven sheep.

Dad had to take his rifle and do what he had to do. When the crofters turned up … they were just so lovely about it. They said, “Well doctor, maybe it was another Alsatian…” But in those days, the island only had one Alsatian. And then they joined in his grief, and they helped him to bury her.

The other side of that grief, as one farmer tweeted this week, is that: “I feel sick. I give up. I haven’t finished counting the dead yet. You’ve broken me.”***

The city and the countryside both belong to our ecology. The world of living things is fragile in its balances, but all of us can try to be good shepherds.

 

*     Gospel of Saint Luke, 15:3-7, https://goo.gl/KoKcxb

**   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/21/dog-attacks-sheep-10-times-worse-feared-figures-show/

*** https://twitter.com/1manandhisdogs/status/863859357196439552

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 24 March 2017 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

An attack like that on Westminster this week can leave folks feeling numbed. It’s as if the senselessness of violence renders us too senseless. How might we respond, if not involved directly?

My thoughts were drawn to a strange experience of Richard Wilhelm, a German scholar and missionary. In China during the 1920s, he was translating ancient texts about the Tao. That’s a Chinese philosophy of the divine, of the ultimate wholeness and intimate interconnection of all things.

In the province where he worked, there came a terrible drought. The grass was scorched, the animals were failing, and the people feared that they’d be next. In desperation, they called on prayers from the Protestant missionaries, and then the Catholic missionaries, and then the Taoist and Confucian priests. But no rain came.

As a last resort, they called in the Rain Maker. He was a wizened little old man from the neighbouring province.

“What do you need,” they asked.

“I just need a hut to go and sit,” he said. And after three days, it rained.

The Chinese peasants soon resumed their normal lives, but Richard Wilhelm being - not just any old scholar, but a German scholar – wanted to know what the little old man had done.

“But I did nothing,” said the Rain Maker.

“Oh come on,” said Wilhelm. “Was it magic spells, or did you just hit it lucky that you only had to wait three days?”

“Neither,” he replied. “It’s like this. When I was in my home province, my spirit was in the Tao. But when I got to this province, I found that I was no longer in the Tao. So I went and sat in the hut, and when my spirit came back into the divine harmony, the rain began to fall.”

We can all feel powerless, but as the Psalms have it, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

After the scorched earth senselessness of violence, perhaps that is how fresh rain restores the flow of life.

 

(My source of this story is Meredith Sabini’s anthology, The Earth has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life, North Atlantic Books, California, 2008, pp. 211-14. I have dramatised the prose for radio.)

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 9 Feb 2017 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

This week has been billed as the “last stand” by the Great Sioux Nation in America.* For the past year, the tribe at Standing Rock have spearheaded a battle against companies that want to build a thousand-mile-plus pipeline through US military owned land, extracting half a million barrels of oil a day from the shale rocks of North Dakota.

One of the last things that President Obama did in office, was to block its route through waters, lands and sites held sacred by the Sioux. But one of the first acts of President Trump, was to reverse that decision. Drilling operations could now start at any hour, and for the Sioux, it’s back to the courts and to gearing up the protests.

But what’s been striking, is that these have fought force not with force in kind, but mainly with spiritual activism. The “weapons” used have been inner more than outer. As the elders say: “Our youth are watching and remember the faces of the officers that assaulted them. They pray for them.”  

Supporters turn up, expecting to shout and battle with the police; but instead, they’re asked to stand all day and simply pray.

“What is the point of prayer?” many ask. Well, it got to a former soldier, Wes Clark Jr. He is the son of General Wesley Clark, who rose to fame in the Vietnam war. In December, Wes Junior led 2,000 of his fellow US Army veterans to form a human shield at Standing Rock, joining in the prayers, spiritually confronting the police and bulldozers.

In America, you don’t mess with veterans, and as this drama unfolded, Obama signed his order.

Prayer, in any situation, works upon an inner battlefield. That inner realm is what shapes our resultant outer actions. It is the long front on which opposing forces are aligned in the big picture of our lives - longer than any pipeline running through the courts – a front that’s only ever fully seen, from a God’s-eye view.

    * http://sacredstonecamp.org/blog/2017/2/7/breaking-army-corps-to-grant-dakota-access-easement

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 13 December 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

Last week’s announcement by the Department of Work and Pensions, that half of Glasgow’s job centres might close, has raised anxiety amongst the claimants of benefits.

They’re worried that longer journey times for job search appointments might lead to sanctioning – or being punished - for little things, like when buses don’t turn up on time, or there’s a crisis in childcare.

Whether or not the benefits system functions in the way we’d like to think it does, is one thing; but the deeper issue is the changing structure of work itself, and the very need for benefits.

These days, supermarket checkouts are automated, and another decade will probably see many jobs behind the wheel going, as driverless vehicles make their debut. It’s therefore time to rethink work, and how wealth can be shared out for the wellbeing of all.

Until now, ideas like a citizen’s income, or a basic income for all, have been fringe notions.

But that seems to be changing. This week, the London School of Economics announced a major new report, calling on governments to “revolutionise how we think about human priorities.”

Lord Richard Layard, an Emeritus Professor of Economics, said the report invites, “a new role for the state – not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’.”

It sounds as if economics is finally catching up with spiritual teaching.

I think of Martha in Luke’s gospel, grumpily slaving away in the kitchen, and Jesus making out that it was perfectly cool for her sister, Mary, just to chill out.

“Martha, Martha,” he said. “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed…. Mary has chosen what is better.”*

Technology can potentially free us for what’s better. The challenge is to create work that is of service to each other. Work that answers to our needs for friendship, community and space for recreation. Work that even heals the broken ecology of this Earth, and makes love visible.

* - Luke 10:38-42

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 15 November 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

Last night was a bit of a let down for watchers of the sky across many parts of Scotland. It was billed to be the night of the supermoon. That time, once in a generation, when the moon comes close enough to be bigger and brighter than we’ve mostly ever experienced.

But like in politics, with Harold Macmillian’s “events, dear boy, events”, the weather intervened. You’d have known the moon was out there, somewhere; but unless you were lucky enough to get a transient break in the cloud cover, your horizons would have had to shrink back to the visible.

Perhaps it’s like life itself. We’re in a time of great upheavals, of crushing inequalities, but we differ greatly in what we can see, and some might even give up looking.

Information technology, and with it, the loss of filters on what counts as news, can be a liberation in many ways. But a flipside, is we’ve narrowed down the world we listen to. On the internet, news is tailored to our tastes, partly with and partly without our knowing. We follow and unfollow, but in so doing, we so easily find ourselves in echo chambers.

Such social stratification sets us out of touch with wider realities. Our eyes get so accustomed to the glare, that we lose the ability to see by gentle moonlight. Even when the supermoon comes out, the clouds around have thickened.

Where does all this leave us? In what ways can we listen out more deeply? In the Quaker tradition, you can find three levels of listening.

There’s the listening to the “me”, in being clear about our own thoughts and feelings.

There’s the listening to the “we”, in seeking out the point of view of others.

But deepest of all, there’s the listening to the underlying Spirit – to the movement of the spirit that is life itself.

Said the great Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas: “He is such a fast / God, always before us and / leaving as we arrive.”

Perhaps that’s the fleetness and the vision that we need today, if we’re to catch the supermoon of life.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 27 October 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

Halloween approaches, and I was thrilled to discover that BBC radio this week aired a dramatisation of Mary Rose, J.M. Barrie’s so-called “ghost play”.*

It’s the story of a little girl, growing up in the First World War, who gets spirited away by the faeries while her parents were on a fishing holiday in North Harris. She spends the rest of her life straddled between this world, and another.

Hitchcock had always wanted to make Mary Rose into a movie. He even got as far as visiting Skye in 1963 to search for a location, but was stopped by film executives, who thought that these “twilight-zone stories” were “too irrational” for modern audiences.**

But Barrie’s ghosts and faeries were far more than Halloween thrills. This son of Free Church parents mined folklore as a means to reveal the effects of war on children’s minds.

And why? Because he foresaw that if the lessons of the Great War were not learned, another would surely follow it some twenty-five years later.

In 1923 he delivered his Rectorial address at St Andrew’s University. You too, he warned the students, risk “doddering down some brimstone path.”

“By the time the next eruption comes it may be you who are responsible for it and your sons who are in the lava.”

And the remedy – to Halloween spectres, that haunt our own tomorrow’s world?

“Courage is the thing,” he said. “All goes if courage goes.”

And courage, as he saw it, is God’s gift through which we might be spared from evermore repeating the past.

As Halloween approaches, enjoy the shrieks and ghouls, the lanterns and the toffee apples.

But if you happen to catch Mary Rose on Listen Again, remember what this great Scots playwright did. He sought to avert real-life horror. He sought to save the world for children and for other living things.

*    BBC Radio 3, Drama on 3, 23 Oct 2016. Listen Again http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0801l4v

**  Research detailed in my Poacher’s Pilgrimage: an Island Journey, Birlinn, 2016, chapters 7 &12

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 4 August 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

In the past week we’ve heard much in the news about - evil. In America, the word’s been liberally thrown around at both presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, the actor Will Smith, has been discussing his part in the superhero movie, Suicide Squad, which goes on release tomorrow.

He says he wanted to explore redemption, and specifically, the idea that while the merely bad are redeemable, the evil are not.

Smith thereby feeds the notion of evil as an absolute. This allows for its personification - whether as the Devil, or as archetypal villains in comic strips and movies.

But are such absolutes the most wholesome way to make sense of suffering in the world?

It was the American writer, James Baldwin, who suggested that: “one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

We sideline the pain of spiritual growth when we reduce it to questions like: If there’s a God, how can “He” allow evil?

Imagine how it would be if every time some human folly (or even cruelty) were about to happen, the Great Cosmic Health and Safety Officer zapped it from on high.

We’d never get to feel the pain of others, or of ourselves. We’d remain in spiritual infancy, devoid of empathy, unexercised by the evils of the world.

For love to be free, evil has to be an option.

Therefore, said Saint Silouan of Athos, “Keep your soul in hell and do not despair.”*

I think that what he’s saying is: fully face the brokenness of the world, but never forget that God’s not sleeping.

It’s a reminder of hope, and of deeper processes at work that might transcend our conscious ken. A reminder, too, that nothing, and no-one, is ever beyond redemption.

 

* - Paul Evdokimov, In the World, of the Church: a Paul Evdokimov Reader, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, NY, 2001, p. 193.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 26 July 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

The publication yesterday of the Commons’ Report into the collapse of BHS reveals that it wasn’t just the Napoleonic leadership of Sir Philip Green that was to blame.

A whole web of top companies in law, accountancy and banking had been complicit, each passing the buck to an extent that, as the report puts it, “has at times resembled a circular firing squad.”

“This,” it roundly concluded, “is the unacceptable face of capitalism.”

But if that’s so, what might be the acceptable face of doing business?

We become participants in the capitalist mindset whenever we drive up the level of competition; demanding lower prices for goods and services in preference to higher social and environmental standards.

Defenders of the system say it’s just human nature. Without such competition, we’d get lazy and inefficient.

But is there any alternative to dog-eat-dog as the best way to organise an economy? The Bible seems to think so. It recognises that economic systems inevitably become corrupt in human hands.

Every so often a Jubilee is therefore needed – a pressing of the reset button - to restore right relationships between people, and with the natural environment.

In effect, the Select Committee’s report on BHS is urging just such a reset for today.

But can competition be reconciled with cooperation? Is it possible for our values to be our value? Well, some years ago I was driving a French banker round the single track roads of the Isle of Harris.

As we debated that very question, a car approached from the opposite direction. In the island’s courteous way, both our vehicles pulled in to the nearest lay-bye, from where we each played the usual game of flashing the other to come on.

“There you go,” I said to my friend, as we both laughed with delight. “This is the island where they compete to cooperate.”

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 15 June 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

In the calendar of the Anglican church, today remembers a pioneering woman theologian, Evelyn Underhill, who died in 1941 and whose book about mystical religion remains a classic.

I thought about her in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, of which the victim death toll now stands at forty-nine. Underhill distinguished sharply between living out of the dictates of religious law, and living out of the heart.

“Lots of us,” she wrote, “ manage to exist for years without ever sinning against society, but we sin against loveliness every hour of the day.”*

This struck a chord in me, as it emerged that the Orlando gunman’s father holds that: God will punish the gays.** That might be a Muslim homophobia, but think how easily such violence in America could equally have come out of a Christian homophobia.

Early parts of the Old Testament do teach authoritarian religion, but Jesus Christ never said a thing about homosexuality.

Some argue that Paul carried forward the Old Testament law into the New Testament. But if so, his authority was the Council of Jerusalem.***

That, in the same breath, also forbade Christians from eating animal products made from blood; yet in recent church debates, although we’ve heard much about Paul’s views on sexuality, we’ve heard no condemnation of sinners who eat black pudding.

When it comes to judging others, Jesus simply said: “Judge not….”

That’s why Orlando, as an attack on the LGBT community, made me feel especially uncomfortable. The killer claimed to be a Moslem, but it rebukes us all if we demonise others, or just stay comfortably silent while others get on with the judging.

True religion, as Evelyn Underhill taught, should never lead to judgement and its violence. True religion points towards the loveliness of God.

 

*   Evelyn Underhill, The Grey World, 1904, https://goo.gl/VslB0D  Her Mysticism was published in 1911.

* *   Paraphrased from report in The Herald:  http://goo.gl/tWC2pe

*** The Council of Jerusalem and Paul’s part as messenger: Acts 15: 19-29; cf. Leviticus 3:17; 17:10-16.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 3 May 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

It’s back from the holiday weekend, and straight into the frenzy of the elections.

Politicians will be parading in their full charismatic splendour to attract our votes. And it’s that question of charisma – where it comes from, and what it serves – that’s on my mind in a week that will also be marked by a funeral: that of the great American anti-war activist and Jesuit priest, Fr Daniel Berrigan.

Large parts of Berrigan’s life were spent inside federal jails. During the Vietnam war, he and others concocted home made napalm, and used it to burn government draft records for calling up the soldiers.

“Our apologies, good friends,” he later wrote, “for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children.”

In 2003 I was on a speaking tour in America, and my host took me to meet the man.

By then this turbulent priest was in his eighties, and I was puzzled by a notice on the door of his tiny New York flat. It was a quote from the artist, Jenny Holzer; words that might speak to many of our Scottish political servants this week, because it said: “Lack of charisma can be fatal.”

It took me some years to realise that Daniel Berrigan was not echoing the word, charisma, in its corrupted sense - that of the cult of celebrity for its own sake. Instead, he meant its original New Testament sense - where charisms are no less than the gifts of the Spirit of God.

That’s why “Lack of charisma can be fatal”. If we don’t pay heed to life’s deeper callings, if we don’t reach out to one another from a place that’s beyond the hollow emptiness of mere ego concerns, then we become spiritually dead.

Politicians mostly try to offer what they think voters are asking for. Perhaps in the midst of all the debate this week, they and voters alike could think about a deeper understanding of charisma - and how best the gift of power can be used.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 6 April 2016 - BBC Radio Scotland

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

It says something about the interest in the Scottish writer, J.M. Barrie, that yesterday, a statue of his character, Peter Pan, was sold for sixty thousand pounds at Scotland’s oldest auction house.

Critics dismiss Barrie as a “kailyard” writer – a purveyor of couthy sentimentalism – but that opinion wasn’t shared by R.D.S. Jack when he was professor of literature at Edinburgh University; and I too have recently been in pursuit of Barrie’s hidden depths while writing about a fishing trip, that he made to the Isle of Harris in 1912.

There, an island on Loch Voshimid, inspired him with his 1920 play, called Mary Rose.

Like Peter Pan, it draws on faerie legends, but uses them profoundly to explore the effects, on a little girl’s mind, of living through a time of war.

It surprised me to find out that Barrie’s parents in Kirriemuir were devout members of the Free Church of Scotland. But there might lie a key, for as a boy, he must have sat through many sermons on the theme: “Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”*

I thought of this awhile back, when I took my son, Adam, to shake the hand of old Ceiteag Maclennan - a remarkable Free Church woman at Seaforth Head on the Isle of Lewis.  

It was shortly before she died, and the first thing she did as he came in the door was to grab his arm, and say: “Adam - when you get to my age, everything that you’ve got, and everything that you are, starts to be stripped away.

“But it’s all right! We came into this world as little babies, and as the Bible says, that’s how we must go out again - if we are to enter, the kingdom of God.”

There’s the depth of a religious culture out of which great writers like J.M. Barrie have emerged - and whoever said religion’s just a pack of faerie tales?**

 

* Matthew 18:3, KJV.

** (The Barrie and Mary Rose connection with war trauma, as well as more stories about Ceiteag, are themes covered in Poacher's Pilgrimage: an Island Journey, due in June 2016 from Birlinn)

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 27 October 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

It’s rare to see key figures from across Scotland’s political spectrum unite behind the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, but there’s been widespread acclaim for Ruth Davidson’s description of Westminster’s treatment of the low paid, as - “not acceptable”.

But, as the poor get further squeezed to pay for a banking crisis caused mainly by the rich, it isn’t just tax credits, vigorously debated yesterday in the House of Lords, that’s sending up the fireworks of austerity.

Let me give an example of what it’s like at Ground Zero. My wife, Vérène, does team leadership work with priority area parishes of the Church of Scotland. She wanted to get a better understanding of their ministry, so these past few Sundays, we’ve temporary taken leave of our Quaker meeting. We’ve engaged, instead, in the dynamic new sport - of church surfing.

The fact is, it’s often Presbyterian churches, and the Roman Catholic chapel round the corner, that are just about the only long-term anchor points in many poor communities.

Our surfing’s introduced us to amazing unsung heroes. This week, in north-east Glasgow, I chatted with a couple whose whole thing is to collect, and deliver, food to the hungry. It’s the feeding of the five thousand, and in the past two years, they’ve made delivery runs of thirty thousand pounds’ worth of food, every can and bag of it donated in person by folks mostly from within the parish.

They told me that the single biggest driving factor of such hunger, is mental health. People are simply not coping, as they have to jump through complex hoops imposed these days by the benefits office. Typically they miss an appointment, get “sanctioned” (as the system calls punishment), and find themselves left high and dry.

“Give us this day our daily bread”: and who’d ever have thought those words would have returned to challenge us, in the Scotland of today?

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 1 October 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

  

Good Morning     

International development aid is under scrutiny – whether at the recent United Nations summit, or as we try to figure out how best to help with the refugee crisis.

It was commendable when the present government committed Britain to meeting the UN target of giving 0.7 of one per cent of GDP. However, instead of finding new money to help Syrian refugees, it’s now considering restructuring the aid budget, so that more of it can be spent within this country.

While such a shift may ease the symptoms, it neglects the roots. But what are those roots? This coming Saturday will see the international development charity, Christian Aid, hold a major conference in Edinburgh to mark its 70th anniversary.  

The theme is “Many Mountains to Climb”, for while we may have reached the foothills of justice between nations, there’s still a long slog to the summit.

I suppose its understandable that government aid will always be steered by a political compass, but what’s distinctive about an agency like Christian Aid, is that its compass is also spiritual. 

Mother Theresa used to say gifts are only true when given from the place of love. Love means that we touch and are touched by the sanctity of one another. It re-positions charity from the realm of crumbs from the tables of the rich, to the realm of relationships, where we discover ourselves to be held in the hand of something greater than ourselves.

As Christian Aid celebrates its 70th birthday, it knows that the roots of poverty are not just political, economic or environmental. The deepest roots are also spiritual, those that tighten round the shrunken human heart.

True “development” is therefore a de-envelope-ment. The word means to unfold – as when opening out an envelope. That’s the gift that comes from out the place of love, the gift of letting go to what it means to become more fully human

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 3 September 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

As tragic pictures in some of this morning’s newspapers confirm, there’s  been a new turn in the refugee crisis this past week. Across Europe, we’ve seen a growing acceptance that nobody takes their children to sea in a rickety boat, unless it’s more dangerous to remain on land.

Earlier this week, Germany’s Angela Merkel took an almost prophetic stand when she warned that, “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, its close connection with universal civil rights will be destroyed.”

Germany expects to take in eight hundred thousand asylum seekers this year. It’s led to Syrians calling Mrs Merkel, the “Compassionate Mother”, and I wonder how many of our politicians could merit such an accolade?

It’s becoming evident that it’s one thing to drop bombs on the world’s trouble spots, but quite another to pick up the human tragedies. To do so challenges the charity and humanity of every one of us.

If it’s not too trite a comparison, this summer my wife and I have had a curious but instructive “refugee” experience, of sorts. A stray cat turned up at our door. She meowed and meowed for weeks and just wouldn’t go away.

Why us? Why at our door?  She didn’t seem very hungry, but then an old woman told me: “You know, cats love people; and if she’s not hungry for food, she’ll be hungry for affection.”

Vérène and I scoured the lost cat websites. We took her to the vet, hoping she’d be tagged with a microchip, but no joy. Eventually – well – suffice to say that the glazier’s coming next week to fit the cat flap. Truth be told, we’re loving having her around.

Back to people, and St Paul looked to a time when we’d no longer be “foreigners and strangers” to one another, but fellow citizens.* Getting there, however, takes a softening of the heart; and that’s what we found was such a hurdle with the cat.

Vérène, being French, has called her Mabelle, “my beautiful”. It just leaves me wondering: how much moreso from a God’s eye view, those human refugees.

    *  Ephesians 2:19

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 30 July 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Text below or [Listen here]]

Good Morning

It’s been a washout for the holidays with July having double the normal rainfall in parts, but that’s not stopped my wife and I from getting out in our canoes!

Two miles off North Uist is a tiny island that I’d yearned to visit ever since the local taxi driver pulled in, pointed it out, and solemnly said: “That is the island of Boreray, the birth place of the grandfather of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.”*

I thought - “So, here’s a people who know a thing or two about pilgrimage” - and a fortnight ago, pilgrimage was indeed the spirit with which Vérène and I paddled out into the Atlantic.

We wanted to experience Boreray’s Field of the Monks, its burial mounds reputedly from all the Celtic monastic outposts of the islands north of Eigg. A small cross, cut into black bedrock on the shore, reminds the visitor that their spiritual basis, was community ongoing.**

That afternoon Shonny Mhor, a retired Berneray fisherman, drove out to a headland to check that we were safe. That’s the way of such communities, the older folks looking out for the younger ones.

Are these traditions disappearing? Perhaps, yet not everywhere. The other night I took friends fishing in the Firth of Forth.

The mackerel turned up just as we were heading home. By the time we’d filled a bucket, the rising tide had reached full flow and we had to fair hammer it back up the coast to return to Kinghorn pier.

We saw folks watching us through binoculars, and knew that, had we been in any danger, their lifeboat would have launched in minutes.

I thought how lifeboat crews give so much unpaid time – to borrow from the Psalmist - for “they that go down to the sea in ships [and] cry unto the Lord in their trouble.                                                     

The monks who rest in mounds on Boreray would have known and loved those selfsame ancient words. There you glimpse it: the depth through time, of community ongoing.  

 

*  -  The said taxi driver, as everybody local would know, was Alda Ferguson of Lochmaddy. Speaking to Alda by phone today (the day of broadcast), he told me that the source of his information was the late Roddy Macaskill of Berneray, who Alda considers to have been a reliable source. According to what Roddy told Alda, the parents of Neil Armstrong’s grandfather left Boreray when the boy was just six months old. Neil is a very common name, the influence of the Irish Uí Néills (“descendants of Niall”), the King of Tara, having extended to the Hebrides. (One of my own 4x great grandmothers was an O’Neill, though of what branch, who knows.) Richard Sharpe’s introduction to his translation of Adomnán’s Life of St Columba surmises: “It is possible that Iona was a principal church for both Dalriada and the Northern Uí Néill.

**  -  My thanks to Jerry Cox, the sole resident of Boreray, for pointing us to the cross and the Field of the Monks. His website of the island’s history, with pictures of the mounds etc., is www.boreray-island.co.uk. Jerry mentioned that the island used to get a lot of canoe visitors – university groups etc – but now Health and Safety combined with the internet’s virtual reality replacing actual reality has largely killed that off.

Although Martin Martin (writing around 1695) describes the Monk’s Field as “this little plot”, the area peppered with mounds of various sizes seemed to me to extend over perhaps a dozen acres. The biggest of them can be clearly seen as little pimples with the naked eye from a distance of 3 miles at the highest point of the road leading from the Berneray causeway on North Uist. I am astonished not to have heard previously of the self-evident importance of this site for the Celtic Church. I even found myself wondering, as a longshot, whether Boreray might be added to such candidates as Tiree as the possible lost monastic isle that Adomnán called Himba, from which the Iona monks were forever going to and fro. 

Martin devotes a page to Boreray (“Borera”), describing the island’s loch, agriculture and archaeology, and mentioning an inhabitant by the name of “MacVanich, i.e. Monk’s Son”. He states

The burial-place near the houses is called the Monks-field. for all the monks that died in the islands that lie northward from Egg were buried in this little plot: each grave hath a stone at both ends, some of which are three, and others four feet high. There are big stones without the burial-place even with the ground; several of them have little vacuities in them, as if made by art : the tradition is, that these vacuities were dug for receiving the monks’ knees when they prayed upon them.

 

Boreray burial mound, very close to the cup marks at the highest point on the island’s south end. I’m wearing a dry suit for canoeing safety.

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 27 May 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Text below or Listen here

 

Good Morning

These past few days have seen the people of El Salvador celebrate the beatification – part of the process of recognising a saint - of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who died thirty-five years ago from an assassin’s bullet.

More than thirty others were also killed at his funeral, when death squad gunmen fired into the crowd of mourners.

What had Romero done to justify such silencing? Quite simply, he practiced liberation theology. That’s to say, theology that liberates theology itself from being tied up in knots, so that it blocks the flow of divine justice to the poor.

The week before his murder, the Archbishop had preached on land reform. A nation’s land, he said, is God’s blessing, for the people. “The land is a sign of justice and reconciliation,” and its maldistribution, “a consequence of sin.”*

All I can say is – give us more such turbulent priests! Protestant ones as well! Give us more of such a man, who also said: “Let us not tire of denouncing the idolatry of wealth…. One’s value is not in what one has, but in what one is.”**

The land is the bedrock of human life. We need it for our food and water, for a place to live, and I was thrilled last week when Aileen McLeod, our government minister for land reform, spoke about it also as a source of “spiritual well-being.”*** 

The Blessed Oscar Romero was brutally brought down, but divine justice flows on like a never-ending river. No bullet yet devised has yet killed God.

I’m not a Catholic, but I delight in this man’s beatification. Here we see a sign of the times; a sign for all, of “spiritual well-being”.

 

* Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love, Fount, London, 1989, p. 238.

** Romero, p. 206.

*** Address to Scottish Land & Estates, 19 May 2015.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 7 April 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

Another Easter holiday has passed. It’s back to work as normal – and yet, Easter should disrupt our very sense of what is “normal”.

There can be no “normal” in Kenya where, last week, gunmen opened fire, shouting at their student victims: “This will be a good Easter holiday for us.”

These jihadists have hijacked the name of Islam, to borrow a line from Robert Burns: “To murder men and give God thanks!”

Yet, how easily we recruit the name of God to war. Last month I was struck when Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, blessed a cross that had been made from the brass casings of used artillery shells.

One wonders what jihadists made of that. 

I was therefore heartened by the very different tone of the Archbishop’s sermon this past Sunday. He’d been speaking with a Coptic bishop about their members who’d recently been executed by the so-called “Islamic” State in Libya.  

Apparently, they died proclaiming Christ. Archbishop Welby was moved, saying: “Christians must resist without violence the persecution [that] they suffer...”

In a video, the terrorists had said their action was “a message signed with blood … to the People of the Cross.”

It forces one to think: What might it mean for us to be, the People of the Cross?

Does it mean to fight violence with violence, evil compounding evil?

Or does it mean - as Christ said – to “put away your sword”? To reflect that Paul was once Jihadi John? To find that Hell cannot contain such love as this?

In another recent massacre – that of the cartoonists in Paris – people showed their solidarity by tweeting, “Je suis Charlie Hebdo.”

Easter is the transformation of the violence of the world.

Dare we pray to find the courage by which, in the words of the Archbishop’s sermon, we might “resist without violence”?

Dare we even tweet it?

Je suis … the People of the Cross.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 26 February 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

[Text below, or listen here]

 Good Morning

“How the mighty have fallen!” This past week my mind’s been filled with those words from the Song of the Bow – King David’s lament for the fall of Jonathan and Saul, and a metaphor for all whose strength has given way.

Two events bring this to mind – one is a personal loss, with the sudden passing of Scotland’s eminently “weighty” Quaker - Christine Agnes Murison Davis.

When Christine was in her prime, we used to tease her for being the Quaker Quango Queen. She gave much of her life to public service, whether chairing the Scottish Legal Aid Board, or speaking for the powerless on the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board.

We Quakers don’t have hierarchies and clergy. But if we did, Christine would have been our Pope. King David’s Song of the Bow speaks for such likes in saying: “A gazelle lies slain upon your heights, o Israel. How the mighty have fallen!”*

The other event that’s brought the mighty to mind this week has been a much more public and political fall – that of Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Long ago he was my constituency MP, and I’ll always remember the way he promptly sorted out a visa problem that I had with a truculent foreign embassy.

Yet, the magnetic force of power so easily pulls the moral compass. In ancient China the emperors had absolute power, but with one constraint. This was called, the Mandate of Heaven, and it was the idea that power is ultimately accountable to the divine, albeit maybe through the court of public opinion.

Irrespective of whether he’s broken any rules, Sir Malcolm has lost favour in the public court. For power is a precious trust. And each of us, we too, have power and Heaven’s mandate in our lives.

How fares each one of us in using or abusing it? By what patterns and examples do we set our moral compass … as we survey the mighty, as they fall?

    * - 2 Samuel 1:19, NIV.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 222 January 2015 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

The most heartwarming news that I heard this week came from Paris, on Tuesday, when Lassana Bathily, who had been born in Mali, had his citizenship application speeded up and awarded in the presence of the French prime minister.

Lassana Bathily was the Muslim supermarket assistant who hid his Jewish customers in a giant refrigerator, then sneaked out to get help as the gunman took hostages in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

When conferring Bathily’s citizenship papers and a medal, the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, described his heroism as an “act of humanity [that] has become a symbol of an Islam of peace and tolerance.”

Bathily answered that he did not consider himself to be a hero. “Yes, I helped Jews get out,” he said, brimming with emotion, but: “We’re brothers …. It’s not that we’re Jewish or Christian or Muslims. We’re all in the same boat.”

“I would do the same again,” he insisted, “because I was following my heart.”

And there’s the essence. He was following his heart.

Whenever those who perpetrate atrocities hijack the name of a religion, they get a bad name all religions. Yet non-religious figures like Stalin and Pol Pot also perpetrated atrocities, at times singling out the religious for special persecution.

We might not have high expectations of a Stalin or Pol Pot. Yet everyone expects the highest standards of religious people – which is what makes the courage of Lassana Bathily so uplifting.

It’s a frightening time just now to be an ordinary Moslem in France - or a Jew - or a cartoonist. But this young man has mapped a path to reconciliation. He followed his heart, and that religion took him to the place where we’re all of one heart.

“Blessed are the pure of heart - for they shall see God.”

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 21 November 2014 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

A report this week claims that obesity is costing Britain 47 billion pounds a year, which is more than the combined cost of our expenditure on war, terrorism and armed violence. 

It makes me wonder what constitutes true security. Are conventional “enemies” our biggest threat to wellbeing, or do we all have security vulnerabilities, that bring the threats closer to home?

It was my birthday this week and my wife took me to a French restaurant. It was a quiet night and we ended up having a nice blether with the owner and the chef.

“So” - we asked them intrepidly - “what’s your honest take on running this kind of business in Scotland?”

They said they love living here, but do wish that we wouldn’t ruin our meals by plastering them with salt and lashing our palates with sweet fizzy drinks!

They see Scotland as having a relatively impoverished food culture. Often eating out is more about showing off than enjoying fresh food painstakingly crafted.

I felt like surreptitiously sliding the guilty salt-cellar away from my plate! But as we headed home to Govan that night, we mused on how a lot of our low-income friends and neighbours love good food, but simply can’t afford, or easily obtain it.

You’ve got to look at how the food and marketing economy works - and in whose interests?

There’s an old story that the Devil’s first temptation of Christ was to turn stones into bread. Today, we might hear it as a metaphor - the temptations of controlling the food supply system.

Sometimes when we eat unhealthily we’re trying to fill up inner emptiness, but with false satisfiers. We turn stones into bread, only to put on the stones.

That’s why this week’s obesity report is a wake-up call; for as a great English theologian once warned: “I can’t get no satisfaction, cause I try, and I try, and I try.”

 

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 31 October 2014 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and scholar

 Good Morning

 

Tonight is Halloween, a night that marks the old Celtic start of winter, a night for kids to “trick or treat” - and for those of us beyond such pranks, a time for tales of long ago.

 

One story that I love was written down around 1900 by the Reverend John Gregorson Campbell.* It’s called The Young Man in the Fairy Knoll, but listen now with modern ears.

 

Two young men on the Isle of Harris were heading home at Halloween. Each had a jar of whisky on his back, and as they reached The Slope of the Big Stones they saw a sìthean – a faerie hill – all illuminated, with the door wide open and the sounds of merriment and music coming from inside.

 

Now, in those days the Scottish Government had not yet troubled itself with blood alcohol levels, and the first man ran inside and joined the reel without so much as setting down his burden.

 

But his friend, knowing the need for prudence with the Otherworldly powers, took a needle from his plaid and jammed it in the hinge of the sìthean’s door; and when dawn broke, he was at liberty to leave.

 

Twelve months later he returned. There was the light back on inside the hill, but his poor friend was still dancing with the jar of whisky on his back, exhausted and reduced to skin and bones yet crying out: “Just one more reel, just one more reel.”

 

Or it might be - “Just one more drink, one more drink” – how often have we heard that line?

 

Sometimes we need the sìthean with its merriment and music, but enchantment must be balanced with our other foot in the world of practicalities. Otherwise we become addicted, we waste away to skin and bones, and then the sadness is we miss life’s deeper music.

 

So there we are – “trick or treat?” this Hallow’s ‘en – but don’t forget to put a needle in the hinge.

 

 * - In The Gaelic Otherworld, ed. Ronald Black, Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, 2005, p. 33, with my dramatisation added.

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 29 August 2014 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and scholar

 

 

Good Morning and As-Salāmu `Alaykum 

 

Given what’s in the news these days – violence or abuse in Syria, Iraq, Rotherham - what runs through your mind when you see a person of Arabic or Asian ethnicity walking down the street?

 

Then consider: how might it feel to be that person? Misunderstood? Angry? Shamed? Fearful of being tarred by the brush of racial stereotyping?

 

Earlier this week I was at the Greenbelt Christian festival and heard a panel of English Muslims speaking about their present cultural discomfort. On Radio Scotland this coming Sunday morning Cathy Macdonald’s programme will similarly interview three young Scottish Muslims. 

 

Often these are people from ethnic backgrounds that we profoundly colonised in the past. No matter what gloss we might try and put on the British Empire, domination was a dirty, violent business. 

 

Violence never properly processed leaves a poison in the mind that knocks on down the generations. Abuse begets abuse creating subcultures of abuse, which is why Alyas Karmani, a Bradford imam, was saying last weekend that British youths drawn to fight for IS are in the lure of “a psychotic death cult,” because the War on Terror has only manufactured more terror.

 

And yet there’s hope. Also at Greenbelt I shared a platform with Mpho Tutu, the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

 

I told her how, in 1988, I’d watched one Presbyterian pastor heckling “Hang Mandela!” as another, the Very Reverend and very elderly George MacLeod was stirred to dance outside Iona Abbey by her mother, Leah Tutu.

 

Our task, said Mpho, is to replace the Cycle of Revenge with the Cycle of Forgiveness. That’s the message of the Cross today but also, at its deeper levels, the message of Islam.

 

 

 

 

Moment for Reflection – 0755, 24 August 2014 - BBC Radio 2

following interview at Greenbelt Festival with Clare Balding

Text below, or Listen Here

 

 

The theme to this year’s Greenbelt is “travelling light”, and I’ve just travelled down from the Outer Hebrides, from the small communities in which I grew up.

 

To me these islands are the Holy Hebrides – since early Celtic times a place of closeness both to God and nature.

 

Some time back I dropped in on Calum, the Free Church of Scotland minister at Callanish. “The old people of this island,” he said, as we sipped tea and broke cake, “maintain that there is only one quality in the human heart that the Devil cannot counterfeit.”

 

“The Devil?”

 

You can imagine the raising of my liberal eyebrows!

 

“Yes,” Calum softly insisted.

 

“Only one thing that he cannot fake. We call it in the Gaelic, the miann. M-I-A-N-N. It means, ardent desire.

“The one thing that the Devil cannot counterfeit in the human heart - is the ardent desire for God.”

 

Calum’s Presbyterian language differs from my Quaker silences.

 

And yet I heard the crashing of the waves.

 

I sensed the starry universe.

 

God - grant to us your ardency of miann.

 

Light within our hearts - the fires of love.

 

 

 

(The music played towards the end of this was Mendelssohn's Hebridean Overture. The books mentioned by Clare Balding during preceding interview jointly with Mpho Tutu were Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power and Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition.)

 

 

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 5 August 2014 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and scholar

 

 

Good Morning

 

Tonight’s the night that Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond will meet on TV as each lays out a vision for our future nationhood.

 

But what is a nation? Is it merely another word for a state as the mechanisms of territorial administration?

 

Is a nation, as many academics would argue, just an “imagined community”; a community of interest defined by the projection of power mainly towards economic interests?

 

Or could it be that a nation is something more? As a theologian called Ernest Renan famously expressed it: “A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle.”

 

It exists, he said, when “a large aggregate of people, healthy in mind and warm of heart, creates the kind of moral conscience which we call a nation.”

 

Renan was coming from a Biblical perspective where people have souls and the collective inner spirit is personified as the “angels” of the nations.

 

Such a view might no longer find consensus, but I was back home on the Isle of Lewis ten days ago and went to the Lochs Agricultural Show* where virtually the whole community had gathered. I found it an emotional experience; one that reaffirmed how it is that community coheres through a shared consciousness and this, raising the consideration that nations are precisely such communities writ large.

 

Angels, whether of the nations or otherwise, are sometimes to be wrestled with, and that can hurt. Jacob wrestled with an angel all night long and had his hip dislocated.

 

The referendum debate can also hurt. But the endgame for Jacob was to receive the angel’s blessing, just as the endgame in community writ large is what the Bible calls “the healing of the nations”, and that, rising to the potential of a higher, God-given vocation.

 

 

* My opening address delivered at this event as published by the Kinloch Historical Society is now online here.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 9 July 2014 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh - Quaker, author and scholar

 Good morning

 

On TV on Monday night Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor, concluded that the “decisive factor” in the independence referendum might not be whether we’re marginally richer or poorer, but that “Scottish people care deeply - about their national identity.”1 

 

However, irrespective of whether we vote Yes or No in September, the religious part of that identity, within existing constitutional law, needs some radical reform. Why? Because it’s embarrassingly sectarian.

 

Much of the 1707 Union With England Act has been repealed, but not Section XXV, that deals with what it calls “the true Protestant religion,”2 and that bound in with an earlier act of William and Mary clad in language about “popery” that would raise a few eyebrows today.3

 

If we vote to stay inside the Union such sentiments surely need to be rethought. If, on the other hand, we vote for independence then the Act of Union itself will fall away.4

 

The referendum raises deep implicit questions about church and nation.5 Many say they shouldn’t mix. Others argue that if we forget God, we lose sight of that higher power by which our politicians and ourselves are measured to account.

 

Whatever the outcome of this and other debates, both sides agree on the national flag for Scotland – the Saltire or Saint Andrew’s Cross – whether inside or outwith the Union Jack.

 

And whichever way September’s vote goes, I rejoice in Saint Andrew’s symbolism. Early Christian traditions tell that he died on an X-shaped cross for having persuaded Roman soldiers to disarm, and for championing a woman’s right to resist sexual abuse.6

 

History has hailed him as “the most gentle” Andrew,7 and that to me is what he means when I survey his cross - within our various flags.

 

1  Scotland: For Richer or Poorer, http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b049b89z/scotland-for-richer-or-poorer

Union with England Act 1707, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/aosp/1707/7

3  1690 Act, http://www.rps.ac.uk/frameset.php?id=id21034&type=trans&filename=william_and_mary_trans

4  The Scottish Independence Bill, Constitution S. 35, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0045/00452762.pdf

5  Scotland’s Future, Q & A Section 590, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0043/00439021.pdf. My reading is that while the 1707 Act would be repealed, mutual duties of the national church and state would continue under S. 6, Articles Declaratory, Church of Scotland  Act 1921 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/11-12/29. In 1986 the General Assembly “dissociated itself” from sectarian clauses in the Confession: http://goo.gl/BNjfgP

6  Saint Andrew, http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2000-theology-in-scotland-andrew.pdf

The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320, http://www.nas.gov.uk/downloads/declarationArbroath.pdf

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 19 June 2014 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh - Quaker, author and Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology

 

Good morning.

 

As violence continues in the Middle East, a glimmer of hope this week is that the British embassy in Iran is to re-open.

 

That’s a far cry from two years ago when Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary, said the chances of diplomacy working were “close to zero” and war-war looked like trumping jaw-jaw.

 

Then suddenly, the tension relaxed. Why? Because a year last Saturday the Iranian people elected Hassan Rouhani as their President, and remarkably, this cleric gained his PhD from Glasgow’s Caledonian University.  

 

Yesterday I read the abstract, and it’s all about how Islamic law can be interpreted. “The Quran is … flexible,” he wrote, and this “leaves room for flexibility in the evaluation of its injunctions.”

 

I’d imagine examples might include the scope to exercise mercy in punishing criminals. Or where, in the Quran’s version, Abel says to his murderous brother, Cain: “If you stretch out your hand to kill me, it is not for me to kill you, because I  respect God (Allah), the Cherisher of the Worlds” (V:30-35).*

 

As Tom Johnston showed in his History of the Working Classes in Scotland, we too were once a “democratic theocracy” with some pretty inflexible religion used to keep women and the poor in their places. Gradually, however, we came to see that the three most important words in the Bible, are “God is love.”

 

President Rouhani seems to be endorsing Islam on a similar path. The planned re-opening of the British embassy in Tehran acknowledges him as a figure of relative peace and stability in a broken region. One that is, in part, the product of a Scottish education.

 

Clydebuilt! To which I saw one blogger ask: “But is he a Protestant Muslim or a Catholic Muslim?”

 

To which the riposte?

 

“Iran Bru!”**  

 

 

* Verse numberings differ according to Qu'ranic numbering systems. I'm using a 1940s edition of the authoritative Yusuf Ali translation and commentary, but I see that. most modern versions number these verses from v. 27

 

** Note for non-Scots: "Clydebuilt" is an expression that means "made in Glasgow", being on the River Clyde. The Protestant/Catholic reference is to a well-know joke about Scottish Christian sectarianism, where a man is asked if he is a Protestant or a Catholic, and says, "I'm an atheist." To which his questioner replies, "Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist." The last line relates to "Irn Bru" - a soft drink, supposedly made from iron girders, that has become one face of Scotland's national identity being sometimes described as "Scotland's other national drink," whisky being the first.

 

 

 

 

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