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 Thought for the Day - Alastair McIntosh

 

Broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland or Radios 2 & 4

 

 

For forthcoming broadcasts see my public itinerary.

 

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 23 mins into the programme. The scripts of recent contributions are shown below.

 

     

194. 22 May 2024 - Leadership in the Infected Blood Inquiry, and the Parable of the Persistent Widow

 

193. 30 April 2024 - Beltane Fire Festival, purification, and Scottish politics

 

192. 13 February 2024 - Don Juan's anger and the river's teaching of impeccability

 

191. 12 January 2024 - A car crash and the field of prayer

 

190. 29 December 2023 - New Year: on "the ministry of laying down"

 

189. 1 December 2023 - BBC Radio 4 Prayer for the Day 6 - Prayer as the breaking of the law of karma

 

188. 30 November 2023 - BBC Radio 4 Prayer for the Day 5 - Prayer as "What seek ye?" at St Andrew's House

 

187. 29 November 2023 - BBC Radio 4 Prayer for the Day 4 - Prayer beyond the politics of climate change

 

186. 28 November 2023 - BBC Radio 4 Prayer for the Day 3 - Prayer in Islam as creative imagination

 

185. 27 November 2023 - BBC Radio 4 Prayer for the Day 2 - Prayer of the Bhagavad Gita and a cup of tea

 

184. 25 November 2023 - BBC Radio 4 Prayer for the Day 1 - Prayer as a holding deeper than the Christian Cringe

 

183. 14 November 2023 - Diwali, Festival of Lights, and the 'Virgins' Parable of the 10 Fiesty Lassies

 

182. 25 October 2023 - Israel-Gaza War and the quality of the light of poetry

 

181. 4 October 2023 - The Pope and blessing same-sex relationships

 

180. 29 August 2023 - MLK & Lorna Waite - vision beyond death

 

179. 28 July 2023 - Climate change and vision beyond stuckness

 

178. 13 June 2023 - J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Bomb

 

177. 19 May 2023 - The AI chatbot and Wilma's haircut

 

176. 14 March 2023 - Banking collapse & babysitting economics

 

175. 26 January 2023 - Donald Trump gets out of Meta Jail

 

174. 28 December 2022 - The Massacre of the Innocents

 

173. 9 December 2022 - The real Good King Wenceslas & fuel poverty [listen here]

 

172. 13 October 2022 - Ben Nevis & Transfiguration and listen to the Radio 4 programme from the mountain here

 

171. 25 August 2022 - The return of sacred artefacts to India

 

170. 27 July 2022 - The Power of the Powerless (Havel)

 

169. 20 June 2022 - Medeval plagues, Covid & community solidarity

 

168. 4 May 2022 - The calling of the Mackintosh building: art & spirituality

 

167.  25 February 2022 - Tolstoy and the war in Ukraine (or listen here)

 

166. 11 January 2022 - The feather of truth

 

165. 7 December 2021 - The Hydro Boys and stag that took the lights out

 

164. 1 November 2021 - The Devil in the Ark at the opening of COP 26

 

163. 6 October 2021 - COP 26, protest, and the meanings of nonviolence

 

162. 25 August 2021 - Bitcoin, CO2 and faceless crypto-currencies

 

161. 1 July 2021 - The "Gaelic Crisis" and the nations

 

160. 12 Mar 2021- Women, patriarchy and Jarius' daughter

 

159. 12 Jan 2021 - The spiritual light of death

 

158. 14 Dec 2020 - The Day of the Mountain

 

157. 11 Nov 2020 - Slavery, private land and the Highland Clearances

 

156. 29 Sept 2020 - Carers, Covid lockdown, and keeping one another warm

 

155. 7 Aug 2020 - Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Beruit explosion

 

154. 1 July 2020 - Conspiracy theories and the basket of community

 

153. 19 May 2020 - Speaking ... as a world-renowned expert in the faeries

 

152. 16 April 2020 - Lockdown and the smoke hole in our tents

 

151. 12 March 2020 - Coronavirus and the hearts of gold

 

150. 3 January 2020 - Climate change COP26 and Dostoevsky's spring onion

 

149. 13 August 2019 - Jeffrey Epstein and Mahatma Ghandi's satya

 

148. 26 July 2019 - Agricultural shows, and the rope that pulled the Hebrides into place

 

147. 3 July 2019 - God carry me ... on the Holiday from Hell

 

146. 18 June 2019 - UN report on racism in Britain - it's not about "blessed are the peaceful"

 

145. 18 March 2019 - Christchurch, white supremacy and Abrahamic teachings on refugees

 

144. 19 February 2019 - Theft versus Catholic social teaching on "the destination of goods"

 

143. 29 January 2019 - Brexit, the Division Bell and the Bhagavad Gita

 

142. 10 December 2018 - 50th anniversary of the deaths of Barth and Merton

 

141. 28 November 2018 - Coping with climate refugees - Isle of Luing & St Andrew

 

140. 7 November 2018 - Donald Trump's support base and the demons from our past

 

139. 26 October 2018 - The "hardcore huntress" and decorum in deer stalking

 

138. 12 October 2018 - The psychological shadow, and Moses' bronze serpent

 

137. 25 September 2018 - Obesity, Cookery and the Hebridean diet

 

136. 19 September 2018 - Korea and the narcissism of small differences

 

135. 15 August 2018 - Victory over Japan Day, and the Buddhist monk (Listen here)

 

134. 18 July 2018 - Saint Thaney, Tenew or Enoch - mother of Kentigern/Mungo of Glasgow & patron of tenacity

 

133. 27 June 2018 - 25th anniversary of the Assynt Crofters' Trust land reform

 

132. 4 May 2018 - Child poverty and access to nature's beauty

 

131. 22 February 2018 - Falling through thin ice - a true fable from Lewis

 

130. 7 September 2017 - Hurricane Irma and ancient archaeology

 

129. 28 July 2017 - Pilgrimage to Ness, Isle of Lewis

 

128.  29 June 2017 - The Craiglockhart war poets and the pioneering of PTSD treatment

 

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 2016 - 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. 0722, 22 May 2024 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

Good morning.

On top of the inquiries into the Post Office, Grenfell Tower and the Hillsborough disaster, we now have the damning conclusions of the Infected Blood Inquiry, and it documents “a catalogue of failures” leading to the “calamity” by which 30,000 people across the UK were infected.[i]

It's a tragedy that’s close to home; but not just here. In France, my wife’s uncle died from AIDS after receiving infected blood; and families will know well the drawn-out suffering that their loved ones will have undergone.

Set against such systemic institutional failure, it’s often the dogged persistence of individuals and small groups who see that the truth will out.

The Edinburgh-educated chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry is Sir Brian Langstaff, and on Monday I watched as he addressed the victims and campaigners.

After prolonged applause, he modestly announced: “No... No... You're actually applauding the wrong people. This is your report.”[ii]

And you could feel the courage anchored deep inside the bearing of the man; as if he had a presence greater than an individual alone. It was the same quality that I’ve seen in James Jones, the retired Bishop of Liverpool who chaired the Hillsborough inquiry, and who happens to be an old friend.

“How did you cope with taking on the Powers that Be?” I asked James.

“With the constant help,” he replied, “of the Parable of the Persistent Widow.”

For in Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells about a woman repeatedly denied justice by a corrupt judge. But she banged on and on, persisting until he relented: and Jesus said that such is why we need, “to pray and not lose heart”.[iii]

For if we pray, we hold a matter in the fire that is the love of God. We hold it ‘till it heats and shines out bright and stretches from beyond the merely human.

And that, the widow knew, can be the strength it takes to move ... even mountains set with hearts of stone.

 

[i] BBC, inquiry key findings: https://shorturl.at/436oL

[ii] ITV News clip on Twitter: https://bit.ly/3ytAPjn  

 

 Thought for the Day – c. 0722, 30 April 2024 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

Good morning.

With the resignation of Humza Yousaf, Scotland is in a week of seismic upheaval; a time when it might almost seem, in the words of W.B. Yeats, as if, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”[i]

And yet ... and yet ... I’m stirred to deeper thought by a coincidence of timing; for tonight on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, thousands of people will be celebrating the old Celtic “Beltane Fire Festival”.[ii]

Beltane ushers May Day in. “Mayday!” we might say, not just as the international distress call, but more importantly, the celebration of International Workers Day: and in the Roman Catholic religious calendar, the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, the carpenter foster-father of Christ, who built things ... and presumably, rebuilt things as well.[iii]

Traditionally at Beltane in parts of Scotland, the old fires were extinguished. The new fire would be kindled on a hill, and folks processed ritually through the flames and smoke. For what? For symbolic purification.

Why so? Because, “things fall apart”. Because, we need such times of letting go, for recollection and reflection, and then fresh sparks.

The poet Hugh MacDiarmid therefore cried out for “a revolution in morale”, and that, by watering the plants within our care: because, he said: “I am concerned with the blossom.[iv]

What, then, is called from each of us in moments of change?

What Beltane fires of purification might we pass through? What structures, might we help to build ... this coming May Day of the worker saint?

And what plants might we water into growth, if our concern be likewise, “with the blossom”.

 

[i] W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”, https://bit.ly/43LyDh3

[ii] BBC, 29 April, “What is the Beltane Fire Festival?”, https://bbc.in/3UGc6kE

[iii] Vatican, Saint Joseph the Worker, 1st May, https://bit.ly/3QmatWu

[iv] MacDiarmid, “Reflections in a Slum”, c. 1960, https://bit.ly/3PktLfe

 

 

 Thought for the Day – BBC Radio Scotland

 Listen for 30 days: c. 0722, 13 February 2024 (1:22 hrs in)

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

 Good morning.

Anger is on my mind right now. And why? Because at end of this week, Interfaith Glasgow has an event where I’ll be on the panel. It’s in the wonderful St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, and it will explore what motivates change: Faith, Hope or Anger?[1]

Whether it’s climate change, the NHS, or a referee’s judgement in the rugby, it’s often anger that most captures our attention in the media, and then we wonder why our politics becomes so adversarial.

How, then, can we be effective in life, yet neither burn up others, nor get burnt out, by our anger’s righteous fire?

In one of Carlos Castaneda’s tales,[2] the medicine man Don Juan tells how he used to be a very angry young man. He was angry at everything and everybody. Such was the depth of his anger from within, that it blocked his path towards impeccability: his path to following his own life’s calling, effectively.

So it was, the village elder threw a mighty party. The whole community came. There was much dancing, powerful ceremonies, and then the elder led Don Juan to kneel before the raging river: and prayed that it become his teacher.

At which, the elder said, “Stand up!” And he gave Don Juan a mighty shove; and as he tumbled down into the torrent, shouted after him: “Don’t be angry with the river!”

For what seemed an age, the brash young man battled with nature’s elemental forces, “But he could not hate or fight the river.” Its teaching, its lesson of impeccability to us all, is how to get to where we’re most effective ... by swimming with the flow.

“Deep peace of the running wave, to you,” says a Celtic blessing.[3]

But notice, it’s the running wave: and so, as Interfaith Glasgow’s event has it: Faith, Hope or Anger? They’re all entwined in each of us. But we must learn to ride the wave if we’re to feed the flow of peace ... back into the community.


[1] Interfaith Glasgow, Faith, Hope or Anger? bit.ly/faithtofaithclimate

[2] John Campbell, “Impeccability: the best use of our energy”, https://warriorsway.com/impeccability/

[3] Full version & source, Rosemary McAuley, Glasgow University thesis, pp. 115-116, https://bit.ly/49cyM0D

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0722, 12 January 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

 Good morning.

The cold weather looks set to intensify next week,[i] and like life itself it calls us to awareness of preparedness.

At New Year, my wife Vérène and I were driving north to Mallaig, when a sudden snowstorm hit, and in minutes had the road an icy sheet.

As we edged down a corkscrew hill we came upon a car at right angles, that had just skidded into the cliff face of a cutting.

I pulled up ahead, leapt out, and as a solitary woman of my own age emerged from out the billowing airbags, shaken but not injured, she heard the lilt in my accent: and the very first thing she said, was: “Where are you from?”

“Lewis”, I replied.

“O, so am I!” she said; and off we went! exchanging who knew who the way you do: until I clicked that we were dawdling in the middle of the highway in a blizzard ... and I got her into our car for warmth and safety.

I threw on my waterproofs, and with someone else who’d stopped, prepared to warn oncoming traffic ... as a second car came slithering down and smack into the cliff.

Hot footing it up the hill with a red warning triangle, I tried to slow a pickup with a trailer, but not enough to stop him ending in the ditch.

The police arrived efficiently, nobody was hurt; and as Vérène and I continued on our journey, we pondered much on how we might have better been prepared.

If there’s another time, she’ll take care of casualties and calling 999. I’ll put on a hi-vis vest and alert oncoming traffic.

Perhaps, thanks to the Lewis connection, my thoughts turned later to a line in Genesis: “Early in the evening, Isaac went out to the field to meditate.”[ii]

For in the evening of each day, it’s good to make a field of space within our minds. Call it meditation. Call it simply thinking through events. But maybe, too, it’s part of how to pray: and therefore, how to be prepared more readily, to play a part effectively, in community with one another.


 

[ii] Genesis 24:63, Berean translation.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0722, 29 December 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

 Good morning.

The year draws to a close, and this will be your last Thought for the Day from 2023. Such endings bring to mind a Quaker expression I’m very fond of - “the ministry of laying down”.

Think of the word “administer”, and that’s what “ministry” means, but with perhaps a deeper care of conscientiousness.

It’s one thing to start up something in the brightness of new birth. But to carry through into a dignified laying down, can be the more exacting call.

What does it mean to you, to lay down the harder things? Perhaps a friend, or even a friendship, that has died in this past year? Perhaps dashed hopes, where the quality that might emerge from failure is not the depth of your disappointment, but your capacity to lay down, let go and carry on?

Wednesday night brought news about the laying down of the life of Jacques Delors, “the architect of the modern European Union”.[1] Unless, he said, a political entity can find both “spirituality and meaning”, “the game will be up”:[2] and how true that is, beyond just politics.

I think about the suffering of wars in Africa, Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Palestine. What openings of the way might help lay down such deep divides of bitterness and laceration?

Only, I’d suggest, the ways of love enlarging us to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Only, a constantly reborn capacity to not give up on our fellow humankind, but to dig from where we stand; and each in our small ways to bring a little healing to the world.

I think about a crofter friend in the Isle of Lewis, with his tractor out there on the shore at this time of year, gathering up the storm-tossed seaweed to spread upon the land as a compost and a fertiliser.

He knows new life will come from old; and as 2023 draws to a close, think that the quality of next year’s harvest might well depend upon our ministry, of last year’s laying down.

 

[1] BBC, 27 December 2023, Jacques Delors dies aged 98, https://bbc.in/3vghZdQ

[2] Full quote & out-of-print source from Delors’ 1992 talk to European churches in my Foreword to John Barry et al. (eds), Europe, Globalization and Sustainable Development, Routledge, 2004, https://bit.ly/41FQypR

 

 

Prayer for the Day 6-of-6 – Alastair McIntosh – Friday 1 December 2023

Good morning.

There is a poem by my friend, the Reverend Kathy Galloway of the Iona Community, called Wrestling with God.

She says: “Get off my back, God. / Take your claws out of my shoulder. / I’d like to throw you off!”

But she continues: “... actually, being honest, I know in my heart / I’d miss you if you weren’t there.”

Here we see what’s often the discomfort of encountering God, but also, an emergent sense of letting go, of coming to know, inwardly.

The Hebrew Psalms say, try it out! “O taste and see that God is good.”

Another Psalm suggests - “Be still, and know that I am God” - for this can be both searched out experimentally, and waited on, experientially.

What then, is prayer? To let go into prayer, can be to break out of our egotistic bubbles. To maybe taste a greater sweetness, and to come to know a deeper music. A cosmic chilling out, in which our eyes become accustomed to the source of inner light.

This helps us to relax the fist that may be clenched around our hearts. It helps us get a life worth living, even in a troubled world. It invites us to a realm where, as the Hindu-Christian scholar Raimon Panikkar put it, “Only forgiveness breaks the law of karma.”

Only forgiveness, can end the knock-on cycles of war and ecological destruction that trap the world in endless spirals of repetition.

And so - “Be still, and know ...” - and I invite you, if you wish, in the Quaker manner, to close this sharing with me in silent prayer.

[Inwardly counts to 5 seconds]

God, hold us this day in you.

Amen.
 

 

Prayer for the Day 5-of-6 – Alastair McIntosh – Thursday 30 November 2023

Good morning.

Today is Saint Andrew’s Day, celebrated here in Scotland for our patron saint. But it’s also the first day of COP 28, the United Nations’ climate change conference in Dubai; and by a rather nice coincidence the recently appointed Chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change happens also to be a Scot: Professor Jim Skea of Dundee.

Andrew the fisherman brings back again to my mind that tale of the feeding of the five thousand – that overcoming of the economics of no-can-do, when the miracle of love is activated, and we drop our masks and make community, one with another.

A patron saint serves as a spiritual archetype for a nation, a pattern and example that can periodically remind us of the values we forget.

In Scotland, the administrative seat of our government is St Andrew’s House: an imposing 1930s Art Deco building on Calton Hill in Edinburgh; and if you’re ever passing by, take a look at the magnificent bronze outer doors, with their array of patron saints, and at the centre, Saint Andrew by his fishing boat, as Jesus says: “And I will make you fishers of men.”

Andrew was the first-called of the disciples, and in John’s gospel, the first words that Jesus said to him and his companion were these: “What seek ye?

What is our deepest yearning?

Here we see, on centre stage, the question of spiritual discernment: what T.S. Eliot called: “the purification of the motive / In the ground of our beseeching.”

And here too, we see a message for a nation; for all nations, and for COP 28.

O God who gives us vision of the heart,

Bring our troubled world to prayer of deepest yearning.

With Andrew, and United Nations:

“What seek ye?”

Amen

 

Prayer for the Day 4-of-6 – Alastair McIntosh – Wednesday 29 November 2023

Good morning.

Tomorrow sees the start of COP 28 in Dubai - the United Nations’ 28th annual conference on climate change – attended by scientists, activists and world leaders, including King Charles who’ll give the opening speech on Friday.

The most recent intergovernmental report says that human beings have “unequivocally caused global warming” and with poor communities “disproportionately affected.”

So it is that Pope Francis, who has sadly had to cancel addressing the event, called last month for a “pilgrimage of reconciliation” because, he said, “the world sings of an infinite Love: how can we fail to care for it?”

Science, politics and economics alone are not enough to tackle the root causes. These are also spiritual: the idolatry of consumerism, through which we, “can’t get no satisfaction”.

An example of the distinctive voice that faith groups can bring to the table, is in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The people are hungry, but the disciples are skint: so off they go to Jesus to suggest that he sends the people out ... shopping!

But Andrew, the fisherman, brings in the lad who shares what he has, and so in contrast to an economics of greed, they begin to subvert the dominant paradigm.

Jesus sits the multitudes down in groups, small enough to get to know each other and to drop their masks. He blesses the boy’s loaves and fishes, and after they’ve maybe opened their hearts to one another and shared of their plenty, there’s enough left over to fill twelve baskets.

So, what is going on here? Is this a literal miracle of magic, the wizardry of Christ? Or are we being shown, the deeper magic? The togetherness we need to see the planet through.

 

O Christ the living face of God whose name is love,

Teach us the economics, of community.

Amen.

 

Prayer for the Day 3-of-6 – Alastair McIntosh - Tuesday 28 November 2023

Good morning.

I used to struggle with the very notion of prayer, connecting it to childishness and wishful thinking.

But some years ago, I felt oddly moved to set out on a pilgrimage, and I went back to the island of my childhood in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

For twelve days I meandered from the south of Harris to the northern tip of Lewis, weaving through the villages and camping out on solitary moors and hills.

It was a journey not just outwardly, but inwardly; exploring what I later came to write of, as an ecology of the imagination.

For when you’re out alone for several days on end, the thought perhaps arises: do we merely have imaginations, or might we move within a greater field, that is imagination?

You cannot tread through such a place and not be called to questions about God. They’re running through the kindness of the people, their churches and the ruined chapels by the sea, the standing stones and healing wells and place names. For as the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas put it: “The parish / has a saint’s name time cannot / unfrock.”

I mused on Henry Corbin, the great French scholar of Islam, who in summing up the Sufi mystic, Ibn Arabi, concluded: “Prayer is the highest form, the supreme act of Creative Imagination.” We pray to God, and God too “prays for us.”

In one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays, Joan of Arc’s inquisitors put it to her that the voice of God sounds only in her imagination. “Of course,” she said, for “that is how the messages of God come to us.”

O God, who said in words of primal poetry:

“Let there be ...”

Pray for us, with us, in us,

through divine Imagination.

Amen.

 

Prayer for the Day 2-of-6 – Alastair McIntosh - Monday 27 November 2023

Good morning.

The Hindu faith has many holy days, and today marks the ending of a less-well-known devotion called the Bhishma Panchak, that involves participants in five days of fasting and ritual for spiritual advancement.

The story behind it hinges on a sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, in which an ancient battle provides a metaphor for our inner conflicts, and what it means to let our lives be held in prayer.

The Penguin Classics translation renders the Gita’s opening line: “On the field of Truth, on the battlefield of life, what came to pass, Sanjaya...?”

Sanjaya is the eagle-eyed charioteer to the blind king, for political power lacks vision without spiritual eyes. And through his blow-by-blow account of that which came to pass, Sanjaya draws the reader, to the attitude of prayer.

I’m reminded of a time when an old woman, a Presbyterian cailleach in my home Isle of Lewis, poured out a cup of tea and then requested that I said a grace.

They say that with a proper length of grace the tea goes cold; and mine, that clocked in under twenty seconds, failed miserably.

“Ifff ... that will be your blessing!” she sniffed.

But what both she and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita call us back to, is to be present to what comes to pass. For this is nested in the “battlefield” that is our life on earth. And this in turn is nested in the way, the Truth and the life, by which each level of our being rests in God.

And so, concludes Sanjya: “again and again joy fills my soul.” So too:

Thy “kingdom”, thy community come,

Thine opening of the way be done,

In earth, as is in heaven.

Amen.


 

Prayer for the Day 1-of-6 – Alastair McIntosh - Saturday 25 November 2023 - BBC Radio 4

Good morning.

I used to be so uncomfortable with the idea of “prayer”. If I’d made a word cloud, there’d have been such terms as compulsory, hypocritical, magical thinking and Christian cringe!

But gradually, that discomfort shifted; and in the coming week I’d like to share with you some thoughts on why.

But first, I am a Quaker. Join me, if you wish, as is our manner: to be gathered in a fleeting moment of receptive silence.

[Inwardly counts to 5 seconds]

So ... it was nearly seven years ago, and I was at a bus station to head north and catch a ferry to a distant Scottish island. The queue was very long, they’d newly introduced a booking system, and the driver said to stand aside, on standby.

But an older woman watching, picked up on my anxiety. Wearing a long grey skirt and with her hair tied back in what I think of as a Presbyterian bun, she stepped forward, and said brightly: “I have a booking. If you can’t get on, have mine and I’ll go later.”

Well, we both got seats, and as we journeyed up the road she told me that she was a “hermit nun”, a solitary Roman Catholic sister, a retired obstetrician who had spent her life in hospitals in war-torn parts of Africa; and now she gave her days to study both the medical and military literature of torture, and praying for its victims.

“How, do you do that”? I asked.

“Just,” she said, “by holding them in God.”

O God our ground of deepest being.

That we might also help

to hold the suffering of the world:

Hold us, this day, in you.

Amen.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0722, 14 November 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

 Good morning.

This week is Scottish Interfaith Week,[1] and you could say that it was welcomed in with a bang on Sunday night, as Scottish families of mostly Indian descent - Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists - held firework parties for what doubled with the third day of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, the triumph over darkness and of goodness over evil.

India has a long border with its neighbours, a series of divides of nationalities and of religions too. But at certain crossing points during Diwali if the politics permit, the border guards converge and exchange with one another gifts of sweets. As the Times of India reported yesterday, such a simple act expresses goodwill. It creates “an atmosphere of camaraderie” between both sides.[2]

Today is the fifth and final day of Diwali. It marks the relationship between brothers and sisters, symbolically perhaps, between nations too. But goodwill needs goodwill to grow, the word Diwali means “a row of lights”; but for each of us to shine a light we have to, Be Prepared.

Fittingly for Scottish Interfaith Week, a Christian parable speaks of preparation in the story of ten feisty lassies, five wise and five foolish, waiting up at night for heaven’s door to open.[3]

They all doze off to sleep, but as midnight strikes, a cry rings out, the time has come for great rejoicing! They all leap up to tend their lamps. But the foolish hadn’t come prepared, and so they find their lights are going out.

“Give us some of your oil!” they demanded feistily.

“No way!” replied their wise and feistier companions.

Why so?

Because none of us can do another’s spiritual work for them. Each of us must tend our own small lamp, and then we’ll be prepared, and work better, together to bring a little light into a darkened world.


[1] Scottish Interfaith Week, https://scottishinterfaithweek.org/

[2] Diwali, Times of India, https://bit.ly/3u9rf2V

[3] Matthew 25:1-13, https://bit.ly/49wnTqW

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 25 October 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

Good morning.

We now know that at least seven people have died across the UK from Storm Babet;[1] and in the Middle East, as if Ukraine and wars in Africa were not enough, another kind of storm has engulfed humanity.

Meanwhile, almost as if it is a metaphor for the times, the clocks go back this coming weekend, bringing a sense of evening darkness closing in.

It could all be doom and gloom: but not so fast!

In Scotland in the past, the bardic schools of poetry were held in darkest winter when the inner life comes most alive: for “poetry is not a luxury” said the African-American writer Audre Lorde - explaining that poetry represents the light, and that “the quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives”, directly affects “the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”[2]

Her words came back to me on Monday night: for my wife, Vérène, is French, and she was on a call to her brother in Paris. He surprised her, saying that the state of things just now had made it dawn on him just what it is we’ve lost. We’ve lost the reverence for life, the ability to find its beauty in nature and community. In a word, he said, we’ve lost the spirituality, that makes it all join up.

I found myself thinking of a song called “Melancholy Man”, in a chart-topping Moody Blues LP from 1970, and the words:[3]

When all the stars are falling down
Into the sea and on the ground
And angry voices carry on the wind

At which very point, “a beam of light will fill your head / and you’ll remember what’s been said / by all the good men this world’s ever known.”

Good men, good women ... and so back round to Audre Lorde’s reminder, of “the quality of the light”. A darkness might be on the world, but let not the occasion go to waste. For as Saint John’s gospel has it: that beam of light, is the life of humankind, “and the darkness did not overcome it.”[4]


[1] BBC Storm Babet: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-67190878

[2] Audre Lorde, “Poetry is Not a Luxury”, Sister Outsider, Crossing Press, 1984, p. 36.

[3] Moody Blues, “Melancholy Man”, A Question of Balance, Threshold, 1970. Listen: https://bit.ly/46JMfLY

[4] John 1:4-5, NRSV.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 4 October 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

 Good morning.

Yesterday the publication, Pink News, ran the strapline that “Pope Francis has said ... that same-sex couples could have their unions blessed, marking a huge turning point for LGBTQ+ Catholics.”[i]

As the pontiff put it, responding to a challenge from five conservative cardinals: “We cannot be judges who only deny, reject, and exclude.” And why not? Because, “When a blessing is requested” (and this applies to any of us) it is “a plea to God for help ... to live better.”[ii]

I belong to the Quakers, a church that has, since 2009, led the way with same-sex marriages.[iii] The pope, explicitly, hasn’t gone that far. But he has opened a cautious door to blessing on the grounds of “pastoral charity”.

But what might any such “blessing” mean? What does a spiritual underpinning to any relationship mean? Well, Matthew’s gospel tells a most peculiar story.

Yet again, the teachers of the law are out to trip up Jesus. They’re of a deeply patriarchal culture, where a widow would re-marry the eldest surviving brother.

And so, they toss Jesus a trick question - about sexual ethics.

“Here’s a family of seven brothers,” they say. “And a woman marries the eldest. But he dies. So she marries the next. And he too dies. And so to the next. And the next! And the next ... next ... next!”

“Then she too dies, and goes to heaven. But whose wife will she be?”

“You tricksters!” retorted Jesus. “You don't know how God works.” Because in heaven “we’re beyond marriage”[iv]. Beyond even the realms of “male or female”.[v]

None of our relationships in this world will be perfect. (Even my own wife says that!) But a sense of ritual can be important to sustaining a relationship. It’s not just for those who have religious faith.

May all our relationships be held, and helped to grow, by asking and receiving, blessing.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0722, 29 August 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of perhaps the greatest speech of modern times, Martin Luther King’s I have a dream, which called into being the vision of a land whereby the sweltering “heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

I have a dream, he said, whereby our children “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”[i]

I have a dream.

King’s life was cut short. But for me, yesterday also marked another passing, another life cut short, albeit by an illness, and the funeral of a friend, the poet Lorna Waite, who had dearly loved the life and work of the black civil rights activist.[ii] Between the two, they set me thinking of the ways in which a life lives on beyond its years.

For Lorna was born into a working-class family in Kilbirnie in 1964, and the poetry she leaves behind testifies to a bigger picture of our lives, urging us to, “Learn yer stories / Speak them tae the land / Listen and hear the / Water teach ye.”[iii]

Her husband, Murdo Macdonald, a specialist in Scottish art, marked her passing with his own poem, about their final outing to Loch Etive. The dream lives on, it keeps unfolding, because -

“In the absolute courage of your farewell / You held a pinecone as if it were a lover / Your fingers taking in its knurled spirals / Woven like you into the rhythms of the world.”

I’ve often pondered: what’s the connection between mere thought, and depth of prayer? Dream vision – prayer – these all weave us into a consciousness beyond the rational, where our lives are held within a greater hand.

Dream on, Martin Luther King. Dream on, Lorna Waite. It’s up to each of us, now, to work the beauty of your soaring dreams into the rhythms of the world today.

 

[i] NPR, MLK’s “I have a dream” text and audio: https://n.pr/3YPySa5

[ii] “Remembering Lorna Waite”, https://bit.ly/44xU19U

[iii] “The Ravens o’ Thingvellir”, Scotia Nova, poems edited by Alistair Findlay & Tessa Ransford, Luath, 2014.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 27 July 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

Yesterday as the welcome news came in that the Dundonian Jim Skea has been elected Chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,[i] it was reported that over forty people have died in the wildfires that are ravaging the Mediterranean coasts of Africa and Europe.[ii]

The reasons for these fires are compound. They can include lightning strikes, accidents, arson and changes in how people live with and use the forests. But the bottom line, is that drought has made the forest floors tinder dry, and few scientists now doubt a driving role of climate change in contributing to such exceptional conditions.[iii] [iv]

But what to do about it? Politically, there seems to be a stuckness. Voters want to see global warming tackled, but fewer will vote for measures that they think might weigh upon their freedoms. We can blame the governments, but it’s also true that stuckness hides in many of us.

And the consequences? There’s a poem by W.B. Yeats that speaks of a time when, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. And when that connection to our spiritual centre is lost, he says, “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.[v]

Yet, there is an antidote. As a Hebrew prophet Habakkuk put it, “vision awaits its appointed time”.[vi] And vision in this sense isn’t just another strategic plan. Vision is a reordering of how we see reality.

Without it, we’ll never reach the roots of climate change, or war, or poverty. We’d just wallow in the same old stuckness of our limitations.

The Hindu scriptures say that vision is of “a light that shines in our heart ... smaller than a grain of rice ... or ... mustard-seed [yet] greater than the Earth”.[vii] And so great things begin from the smallest steps that are taken by the least of us.

We can’t buy the vision that restores right relationships with each other and the planet. But in the still small moments we can reach into the “centre”, and ask.

For as the poet Hugh MacDiarmid said: “The inward gates of a bird are always open/ .../ That is the secret of its song.”[viii]

 

[i]  BBC, Jim Skea, IPCC, https://bbc.in/3O9daZC

[ii] BBC, Deadly Mediterranean Wildfires, 26 July 2023, https://bbc.in/3QfmEoT     

[iii] IPCC, Special Report on Climate Change and Land, 2019, https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/

[iv] BBC, Europe Wildfires, 21 July 2022, https://bbc.in/472Gtpj (note that this explainer is 2022, interestingly).

[v] W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”, https://bit.ly/43LyDh3  

[vi] Habakkuk 2:3, ESV, https://bit.ly/43GMZ2b    

[vii] Chandogya Upanishad, 3:13:7 & 3:14, The Upanishads, trans. Juan Mascaró, Penguin Classics, 1965.

[viii] Hugh MacDiarmid, On a Raised Beach, excerpt at https://bit.ly/472LUET     

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 13 June 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

Good Morning.

Yesterday SIPRI, the Stockholm peace research institute, released its annual report with the finding that global stockpiles of operational nuclear weapons had increased during 2022.

It warned that the world is “drifting into one of the most dangerous periods in human history”, and it is imperative that world governments learn to cooperate in order to calm geopolitical tensions.

I remember when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Unlike with Russia and Ukraine today, our hopes back then were for a “peace dividend”: that money spent on building up hostilities and fear of mutually assured destruction might now be spent for greater common good.

But other influences prevailed, and in writing about it recently, I’ve had occasional correspondence with Charles Oppenheimer, the grandson of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb”.[1]

Oppenheimer codenamed the first nuclear test Trinity – a Christian term - and when the Bomb went off, he quoted from a Hindu sacred text: “I am become death, the destroyer of the worlds.”[2 

But what’s less widely known, is that within a fortnight of the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he signed off a scientific committee’s letter to the US Secretary of War. It expressed “grave doubts” around the idea that developing nuclear weapons could prevent wars, for true security, it concluded, “can be based only on making future wars impossible.”[3] 

Perhaps for this, he was stripped of his security clearance in a decision that the American government reversed only last year, posthumously.[4] A major movie due out next month will explore his life,[5] his bottom-line message being that “the peoples of this world must unite or they will perish.”[6]

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” even if they come from unexpected quarters. For as the 19th century philosopher Nietzsche put it: “Not when truth is dirty, but when it is shallow, does the enlightened man dislike to wade into its waters.”[7


 

[1] Charles Oppenheimer article: https://bit.ly/3MWFxcW 

[2] Bhagavad Gita XI:32, see my http://bit.ly/Atomic-Theology 

[3] JR Oppenheimer letter of the Interim Committee: https://bit.ly/3Xhfoul

[4] Secretary of Energy letter re. Oppenheimer: https://bit.ly/3CmgiMr 

[5] Trailer of “Oppenheimer” movie: https://bit.ly/461JjdV. Review: https://bit.ly/42uExm4

[7] Nietzsche, “Of Chastity”, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Penguin, 1969, p. 82.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 19 May 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

Good morning.

I’ve been really busy these past few weeks, and when I eventually peered up from the computer, my wife pointed to my shaggy locks, and ordered: “Off you go to Wilma’s for a haircut!”

But part of my busyness lay with artificial intelligence. I’d been playing with one of those new “chatbots”, so before dashing out the door, I popped it the question - “Can you write a poem about Wilma’s hair salon?” – and then I burst into her shop along the road with seven verses, that began:

In the heart of Govan, a place so grand,

Stands Wilma's Salon, a magical land.

With scissors and combs, she weaves her art,

Transforming hair with a skilful heart.

You can imagine! But there’s a less funny side. On Tuesday in America, Sam Altman who pioneers this technology testified to Congress that if AI isn’t regulated, “significant harm to the world” may result.

He meant things like manipulating emotions for political ends, and some experts even believe that AI may develop feelings and consciousness and take control. It invites the question: what’s the difference between a person and a machine?

If we believe that human qualities are little more than chemistry in the brain, then it makes sense that machines might catch up.

But if we believe humanity to be a sacred quality, and that our consciousness is woven from a love that no machine could ever emulate, then a very different vision of the world unfolds.

So ... when I got back from Wilma’s, duly transformed, I popped another question to the chatbot. I asked for a “Thought for the Day” poem on artificial intelligence. And here is what it said:

Let’s tread with care upon this road,

For AI, though brilliant, is but a code ...

Its wisdom is vast / but lacks soul’s embrace. So in matters of ethics / it has no place.[1]  

There you have it! Machines can be humble. If they’re programmed to be so.


 

[1] For smoothness, these 2 sentences slightly adapt the ChatGPT poem from: https://chat.openai.com/auth/login

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 14 March 2023 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

Once again, we’re reminded of the fragility of the world’s banking system with the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank in America last week; and over here its economic knock-on effects.

How can such collapses happen? Or more pointedly, what is it about “money” that can play out in such volatile ways?

Forty years ago, I did an MBA to try and understand. But what taught me most memorably, was having children: because we joined an economic system with its very own currency: a Babysitting Circle!

There was a Secretary, with scissors, and blue cardboard sheets. When you’d move into the neighbourhood, you’d get given five squares, each to be swapped for one hour’s babysitting. You’d then trade hours for squares with neighbours; and if you moved away, you were honour-bound to pay five tokens back, to keep the economy in balance.

At its most simple, that’s what money is. It’s a system for recording rights and obligations between each other. And notice how it’s all based on confidence: a word that means, “faith, with one another”.

But consider this. What if the Secretary starts cutting up more blue cardboard squares, and thereby pumping up the system with “money” that’s not balanced by the supply and demand for babysitting?

You can imagine how quickly confidence would collapse. It’s the same with world economies and banks. If regulation is too weak, or if the duty of care gets too relaxed, then very quickly mayhem can bring down the house of cards.

To paraphrase a central spiritual teaching: “Seek first the community of righteousness”, which is to say, justice, “then all else will be given unto you”.

Banking, economics, and money itself are all essential in their service of the common good. Of course, profit is integral to this too. But legitimised, only if the system’s underwritten: and ultimately, only if the underwriter’s name, is Justice.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 27 January 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

 Good morning.

This week Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced that it’s to allow Donald Trump back onto its platforms.

It explained that his indefinite suspension had followed “his praise for people engaged in violence” during the storming of Congress in January ‘21.[i] But the company’s Oversight Board has since recommended a policy change, and where the suspension of a public figure is justified during civil unrest, the new norm will have a two-year upper limit.[ii]

Trump’s release from Meta jail will have, as they put it, “new guardrails ... to deter repeat offenses”. Yet they recognise that the decision will “be fiercely criticized”, and that even “reasonable people will disagree.”

But this is not just about the excesses of influencers. It’s about us all.

Social media pay their way through advertising, yet reasoned discourse simply doesn’t drive the traffic like the rhetoric of inflammation does. The algorithms or tweaks for what gets boosted serve like halls of magnifying mirrors; and based upon our “likes” and our engagements, we readily get polarised in ways that are, in part, our own reflections.

It’s interesting that Jesus also saw this problem. On one occasion, such was his multitude of “followers”, that he took to a boat to address them from offshore.

But he did so with a warning, lest they be, “ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving.”[iii]

What’s more, he did so with a diagnosis. For their hearts, he said, had “become calloused”. If they would but turn their hearts, they’d find that they’d be healed.

Back then, to Meta’s dilemma over Donald Trump. Yes, social media can erect strong “guardrails”. But it’s also down to us.

We too might ponder on the virtues and the vices that we amplify. We too might guard our hearts, lest they get calloused, and lest this cuts us off from wiser ways of hearing and perceiving.


[i] Meta, “Ending Suspension of Trump’s Accounts with New Guardrails to Deter ...”, https://bit.ly/3XUWd8A 

[iii] Matthew 13:1 – 23, NIV, abbreviated.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0722, 28 December 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh  

Good morning.

Today is the fourth day of Christmas, but it’s actually one of the most disturbing moments in the Christian calendar. What’s variously called Holy Innocents Day remembers when King Herod – who feared a threat to his worldly power - ordered the killing of all the infant boys around Bethlehem, and with them, the new-born Jesus too.[i]

Historians find scant evidence of any such a massacre. But at the archetypal level of our minds, the realm of story, metaphor and parable, a deeper truth reveals itself. That children were portrayed as Christianity’s first martyrs. And that cruelty remained ongoing this past year, not least with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

How might such violence be resolved? Will sanctions undermine Russia’s economy? Will more and better weapons turn back the streams of war? Perhaps. But spiritual vision invites the taking of a deeper look.

In 1945, the constitution of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural body, declared a plea for greater depth: “Since wars begin in the minds of men,” it said, “it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”[ii]

That, points the finger back, not just to tyrants, but us all. For it’s our minds that, left untended, become seedbeds from which acrimony spreads.

And so, the heavenly host on that first Christmas day, called out for “peace on earth, good will to all....” Christ told that he brought peace, “not as the world gives it”, but through the deeper strength of grace. Therefore, the risen Christ declared: “Peace be unto you,” [iii] because the cross absorbs the violence of the world.

Today’s observance of the Massacre of the Innocents, is more than just a relic. It’s a call, ongoing. To tend our minds this coming year. To set the seeds of peace. To scatter good seed in the fields.


[i] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Feast of the Holy Innocents, https://bit.ly/3VlUasm

[ii] UNESCO Constitution, https://bit.ly/3VgAvtN

[iii] Luke 2:14; John 14:27; John 20:19. And Raimon Panikkar, “Nine Sutras on Peace”, https://bit.ly/3wASLF5

 

********************* 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0722, 9 December 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh [listen here]

 Good morning.

“Good King Wenceslas looked out” - and as Scotland faces a week of sub-zero temperatures, and as we hear the jingling Christmas tunes on shopping centre tannoys, the song brings back to me school carol services; and how, from up the back of the class in Stornoway, we’d dismay the poor music teacher with our hypersonic version, that went: “... gathering winter fuu-ooOOoo-el” [sings it, and chuckles].

With its words written by an Anglican clergyman, the critics have routinely condemned Good King Wenceslas as “doggerel”. In 1928 The Oxford Book of Carols cited it as “poor and commonplace to the last degree”, and the editors roundly hoped that it might fall into disuse.[i]

But consider. Why does it still have sticking power?

The original King Wenceslas was a tenth century Czech folk hero, a Bohemian duke who became a saint and called an honorary king only after his martyrdom. Legend has it that he’d go out barefoot with his page at night, and carry comfort to the widows, orphans, prisoners and poor.

That’s why the Christmas lyrics have them taking food and pine logs to the home that’s in fuel poverty. To the man who’s living “right against the forest fence”, on the margins of society; and “by Saint Agnes’ fountain”, for this is holy work sparked off by holy imagery.

In the Middle Ages, Wenceslas came to symbolise the righteous leader, in whom outer vigour is fired up from inner piety. That’s why the heat was in his footsteps’ very sod, to melt the snow, and “freeze thy blood less coldly”.

We might write such carols off as doggerel. But they carry, on cold nights, a constellating meaning. They speak of archetypal qualities. So, let’s not write off yet, the Good King Wenceslas.


[i] The Oxford Book of Carols, footnote to No. 136, p. 271, https://bit.ly/3HhGRGb

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 13 Oct 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

 from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

It may be just October, but winter’s not far off on Scotland’s hills, and didn’t I just know it this past week when I went up Ben Nevis with a mountain guide and the broadcaster, Anna Magnusson.

We set out in drizzle and a gentle breeze, but by the time we’d reached two thousand feet a gale was blowing waterfalls back up the soaring heights, and my teeth chattered to the volleys of rain armed with shrapnel hail.

We were there to make an episode of Sunday Worship for Radio 4. Later this month, they’re putting out a series from Britain’s mountains, and from Ben Nevis, Anna and I chose to explore transfiguration: about the time that Jesus climbed the holy mountain, and his face transformed, all radiant with light.

So, heaven comes down to earth, the human and divine as one. And the best of Orthodox theologians will quote Saint Gregory of Nyssa– “Man is the human face of God” – and with it, all that follows for how we ought to treat our fellow humankind.

On the summit of Ben Nevis is a Peace Cairn. United Nations students put it there in 1965, a symbol of transfiguration of the world. As the inscription on plaque has it: “to save succeeding generations” from the “untold sorrow” of “the scourge of war”. And it concludes: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

As Anna and I came back down the mountain, we pondered on those words of Christ, and how, each one of us in our own ways might bring that vision with us: to transfigure and transform our world.

And I thought about the land from which on high we’d gazed across vast acres. And how this week, is Community Land Week, with groups across the nation celebrating how they dig from where they stand.

Peace is made on longer fronts than war. Peace starts in our own back yards. And you know, that quote on the cairn: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Those are, quite literally, the highest words in Scotland.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 25 August 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

We have a good friend, Amreeta; she’s of a British-Indian background, and on Tuesday night she dropped round to get my wife to go out for a dance class.

As we polished off our meal, she asked what I thought of Glasgow’s city museums having just made an historic agreement to send back artefacts taken from India.[i]

“It’s been all over Facebook,” Amreeta said, showing me a posting. Apparently, the items had been mainly held in storage. All seven had been carried off while India was still a British colony, and six of them from holy shrines and temples.

It made me think: Imagine if some of our Pictish stones, or monks’ bells or jewellery from the Celtic era, had been pillaged and put into storage in an Indian museum. That sets it in perspective!

To put right such bygone wrongs restores not just the property. It also gives folks back their dignity, identity, and their agency to draw enrichment from their own culture. For sacred objects are the outer symbols of a community’s inner understanding.

I remember when I worked in Papua New Guinea many years ago, I asked about the meaning of some intricate patterns on a traditional carving. “Luk, na bai yu save!” I was told in the local language. “Look, and you will know!” For the meanings written in such art can carry us beyond what words alone can tell.

The hundred-and-forty-sixth Psalm tells of a God who has a special care for foreigners, as well as for those subjected to poverty and tragedy at home. It promises a God who “turneth upside down” a world that human ways have wounded.[ii]

There lies my delight at Glasgow starting to put right the wrongs of our colonial history. But also, it draws us into justice in the present day, into a common striving to restore all people’s agency and dignity, and so to build that God-mandated world turned upside down.

 

[i] iNews, 19 August 2022: https://bit.ly/3cdbyPL

[ii] Psalms 146:9, NIV & KJV translations: https://bit.ly/3cg8kuN

 

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 27 July 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

There seems to be no let up. Questions over truth and integrity in public office. The felt effects of climate change. Russia in Ukraine. And the cost of food and energy that stalks the poor with fear of what’s to come.

Our living room window looks out onto a street in Govan. And the night before last I saw a figure waving madly, and there was George, just out on bail from the Helen Street police station; and as I made a coffee he didn’t say what he’d been in for this time, and I didn’t ask.

He downed two-thirds of the mug, refilled it from the half-bottle in his pocket, and I thought how poverty has many faces. Most are silent. Mostly, we never get to see the childhood of a man like George, the harrowing rites of passage as a youth, or now in later life, the gout, the diabetes and the cancer that he suffers from.

And yet, there was a joy, a freedom of spirit, that welled up as he reminisced about a music workshop we’d held locally some fifteen years ago; and he sang the song he’d learned about “kisses soft as rain”.

Beside me on the sofa lay an essay by the playwright Vaclav Havel, who became the president of Czechoslovakia after its bloodless Velvet Revolution.

Titled The Power of the Powerless,[i] Havel talks about the “theatre of the spirit”; the cultural space where musicians, artists, or “simply ordinary citizens” carry out the “pre-political” work that is “the living humus” from which genuine change springs. And that, he said, by breaking down the crust of social lies by finding the courage “to live within the truth”.

I dropped George round to where he stays before the spiced-up coffee took effect; and he talked about the faith he’s found, about that deeper “truth that sets you free”[ii]. And I thought: that’s Vaclav Havel for you. In a way, that’s George too; and perhaps, all of us.


[i] Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, 1978, https://bit.ly/Havel-Power-Powerless

[ii] John 8:32.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 20 June 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

Over the weekend Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, announced he’d tested positive for Covid. “Be careful everyone,” he said, warning that both Scottish and global cases are on the rise again.[i]

Well, don’t I know it! Early last week, I got a sniffle and tested positive.

The next day it was like a thorough going dose of flu. Chills and sweats, as I felt it going down my throat, and a headache that came up from somewhere deep inside my brain.

It’s strange how illness can impact upon the mind - like watching a cartoon clock dropped on the floor - and all the wheels of thoughts and images spring out and disconnect.

But there was another thing. I thought about our local pharmacist, the way he’d told me that the worst point for their shop was in the early weeks of the pandemic, “when we didn’t know what we were dealing with”.

I thought about the teams of care staff, the public servants like Professor Leitch, and of those who’ve made the vaccines and the volunteers who helped deliver them. And I had this warm sense of how, these past two years, there’s been a surge of kindness too.

The historian, Karen Jillings, tells that medieval Scotland pioneered the public health of epidemics. My goodness! If I’d got the Great Pox back in 1495, I’d be off to a quarantine camp on the Aberdeen Links, or Edinburgh’s Burgh Muir, and that for forty days and forty nights![ii]

The old Gaels of the Hebrides have a saying - “If we’re spared....” – words that convey both doom and providence. Jillings tells how the providential upside was that medieval plagues fostered “emotional communities”, and these often left a legacy of “communal solidarity”.

So, let’s not waste the solidarity we’ve learned. And for me? I’ll now take up my bed, and walk.

“If we’re spared!"


[i] Jason Leitch, Twitter @jasonleitch, 18 June, https://bit.ly/3xH5N3c. Last week’s data from ONS estimates a 1-in-30 incidence of Covid in Scotland: https://bit.ly/3tHmV7W.

[ii] Karen Jillings, “Fear of disease in Medieval Scotland”: https://bit.ly/39Dccom, and “Plague, pox and the physician in Aberdeen, 1495–1516”: https://bit.ly/3xw6yvW

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 4 May 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good morning.

Another stushie has erupted around the Glasgow School of Art, this time, a senior architect alleging that the tendering process for the burnt-down Mackintosh building favours the cheapest price over quality.[i]

I cannot judge that argument; but perhaps for many it might prompt deeper questions around quality: questions of the building’s calling, the art it might inspire, and for whom?

Eleven years ago in Govan, I put on a conference that was madly called, Kandinsky in Govan, to celebrate the centenary of a little book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.[ii]

For him, art has a sacred calling; a calling to refute what he called: “the nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game”; a nightmare that “holds the awakening soul still in its grip.”

He condemned the “vain squandering of artistic power” that he saw in “the doctrine of art for art’s sake”. Instead, let an artist “be priest of beauty”; driven by an “inner necessity” to “feed the spirit”, and not let “hungry souls go hungry away”.[iii]

Here, and at its best, we see Kandinsky’s Russian Orthodox spirituality, where God is glimpsed through philokalia, the love of beauty.

But where might that land us today, in a world not only of a burned down art school, but in the ashes of Ukraine, the losses of the pandemic, escalating fuel poverty, and all the rest?                  

My thoughts turn to images of lava: solidified and dark, yet fissured through with cracks from which the inner fire shines through.

May each of us look down into those cracks of an imperfect world. Face both the rubble and the light. From there the phoenix rises.

 

[i] The Architects’ Journal: https://bit.ly/3KS3Upj

[ii] Kandinsky in Govan, conference papers: https://bit.ly/3yeGwzo

[iii] Concerning the Spiritual in Art, PDF trans. Sadler: https://bit.ly/3LEvg3m

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 25 February 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh

listen to it here

Good morning

War and Peace … and over recent months, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s epic novel about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

It runs to over thirteen hundred pages, and my copy of the paperback was so thick and heavy, that I had to borrow my wife’s hair dryer to melt the glue that bound it all together, and separate it into four parts, to render the experience one more of reading, than of weight-lifting!

But as Russia’s troops closed in upon Ukraine this week, a different heaviness beset me.

In researching War and Peace, Tolstoy had read the French and Russian histories, he interviewed survivors and visited the battlefields. It left him with a powerful sense that war cannot just be blamed on this event, or that person. It’s a consequence of what has gone before.

Each of us, he says, has two sides to our lives. “A personal life,” with freedom of agency. And what he called an “elemental life within the swarm of humanity,” and this side of life is built up of billions of prior events.

I’ve thought so much of that these past few days. What can you or I do, about the shocking invasion of Ukraine?

There used to be a saying: “What did you do in the war, Daddy”?

Tolstoy’s sense of billions of prior events that feed into the elemental swarm, invites a deeper question: “What did you do … before the war?”

What might each one of us be doing now, to turn back future streams of war?

I have no clincher of an answer. I just have humming through my head a hymn heard at Iona Abbey. It’s about how we treat our neighbours, and the billions of acts of kindness and respect that set the seeds of peace.

When I needed a neighbour
Were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour, were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
Were you there? Were you there?

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 11 January 2022 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Quaker and author Alastair McIntosh,

Good Morning

There’s been a new hashtag appear in social media – one of those words or phrases that’s used to flag up fashionable memes.

When I looked on Twitter yesterday, “DontLookUp” had been hasthtagged more than two hundred times in the past hour, being the title of a disaster-comedy movie, albeit one with very mixed reviews.

The plot has scientists discovering that a comet from out of Jupiter is just six months away from striking earth. But the politicians and the media deny reality, and mock the Earth’s impending doom.

It speaks, of course, to climate change. The way we’d rather not look up and act with adequate resolve. And now the hashtag “DontLookUp” is finding other uses. As if it’s entering the vocabulary for any inconvenient truth denied.

In both the Bible and the Hindu scriptures, the words translated “truth” mean not just any old truth, but reality revealed. So it was that Gandhi said that that if we don’t live in the truth, then we’re just no’ being real!

The Egyptians back in pyramid days believed that when we die, our hearts are placed in one pan of a set of scales, and in the other rests a feather, the Feather of Truth.[1]

A life of lies and greed makes for a heavy heart. And if our heart weighs more than what the feather weighs, too bad for us: for then we cannot drift across the Hall of Truth that leads to paradise.

A feather that’s not weighed down can help us judge not just our private truths, but public ones, like climate change or claims in the pandemic.

It takes pure heart to see pure heart; to look up, soar, and change directions if we need to; not least to see the problems of our age from differing vantage points.

Therefore, “Blessed are the pure of heart,” it’s said, “for they shall see” … reality. 


 

[1] The Feather of Truth, World History Encyclopedia, http://bit.ly/FeatherOfTruth

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 7 Dec 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

 

Good Morning  

As a second winter’s storm sweeps in with strong winds forecast for today, it was only on Sunday night that the electricity was restored to all the 135,000 northern Scottish homes that lost it last time.[1]

But amidst the dishing out of blame, spare a thought for what we used to call “the Hydro boys”: the men (and these days, women), you’d see strapped by leather belts, dangling from the poles at night to bring the lights back on.

The tales are legendary. Of being rowed across from islands in tremendous waves. Of firing arrows trailed by fishing line to pull a rope to pull a cable across a churning river.  

And … those tales … well, let’s just call the culprit, Donald. You see, Donald worked in Lewis, but as one of his neighbours in Harris told me, every week he’d drive back home to see his mother for his Sunday lunch.

Now, Donald was a small-time poacher, and as he came across the Clisham pass on this particular Hebridean Sabbath’s morning, there stood the perfect stag lined up to make the perfect downhill shot.

Surely nobody would see or hear? They were all in church – or should have been. So he took aim. But as he pulled the trigger, the sky was rent by lightning, and the beast dropped dead.

Awestruck, he sped on to his mother’s house. The lunch was served up cold that day. There’d been a power cut. He ate it silently. Then headed back to Lewis.

But as he came back up to the scene of crime – there were two of the Hydro boys. They’d just fixed the power line he’d not noticed – and were dragging to their van the perfect stag.

So, spare a prayer for Donald’s soul! But spare one also for the Hydro folks. As children, on those stormy power-cut nights, we’d lie awake in bed and think about them out there.

Perhaps those thoughts were also prayer? Perhaps that’s how it is when, we too, spare a little heart space for those who bring back power to the community.


 

[1] Alastair Dalton, “All homes in Scotland have power restored after storm”, The Scotsman, 6 Dec 2021, p. 5.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 1 Nov 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

As the United Nations sets down to work in Glasgow, its most recent scientific report described the human heating of the planet, as both “unequivocal” and “unprecedented”.[1]

So, is there any hope in all of this? Well, perhaps you’d let me share a sixteenth century tale that’s from the Penguin anthology, A Celtic Miscellany.[2]

The Book of Genesis tells that God caused Noah’s flood, because the world was full of violence and corruption.[3] But it’s less well known that the shipwright who built the Ark discovered that he wasn’t on the passenger list. And so he sabotaged the venture, by leaving empty a nail hole in the bottom.

The Devil watched on with relish, and as the animals went in two-by-two, he too embarked and hid down in the bilges. But what he hadn’t reckoned, was that as Noah raised the anchor, he also raised his hand - to bless the Ark.

Now, the Devil can withstand the red-hot heat of hell. But not the white-hot heat of love. Desperately he searched for the fire escape, but the only exit was the shipwright’s hole.

So he changed into a snake. But alas! The hole! Too tight! Too tight! And he stuck there - head in, tail out - until the Ark berthed safely to a rest upon Mount Ararat.

And so the devil was the worst and best nail in the Ark. And climate change today? The worst nail in the Ark, that’s driven through (not least) by violence and corruption.

But what if that can be our spur to transformation? What if we can start to build the long-awaited vision of One World? A shared humanity. “Our common future.”[4]

We’re all now riders on the Ark. So might the Noah in each one of us raise up our hand? Set loose the fire of love! And a blessing on all those who’ve gathered for COP 26.


[1] IPCC, 6th Assessment Report, Headline Statements, 9 Aug 2021: https://bit.ly/3ang7lU

[2] Kenneth Jackson (ed.), A Celtic Miscellany, Penguin Classics, 1971, p. 304.

[3] Genesis 6:11.

[4] Our Common Future, The Brundtland Report of the UN, 1987: https://bit.ly/3vXoVch

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 6 October 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

All of a sudden after a year and a half of pandemic uncertainty, Glasgow has engaged top gear for COP 26 - the United Nation’s climate change assembly that is said to be the biggest summit ever hosted by the UK.[i] 

Already from my window here in Govan, we’ve had what looks like practice helicopter flypasts. And protestors will be out in force on Saturday sixth November, when the COP 26 Coalition, of some two hundred voluntary organisations, are putting on a massive rally.[ii]

There might be informal protests too, one variant of which has hit the news disturbingly. Yesterday saw outraged headlines after a group called Insulate Britain blocked a major road, refusing to let through a panicking woman who was pleading to attend her elderly mother who, she said, was being taken in to hospital.[iii]

Militant protestors often claim their actions to be nonviolent, based on the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. But what moves me in Gandhi’s thought is how he saw nonviolence not in terms of ends justifying the means. He saw it as a way of life. Of heart reaching out to heart, from depths of truth at levels shared within the soul.

Like in Christ’s example, Gandhi and his followers took suffering and even risk of death upon themselves. Never did they thrust it onto others. Never would they have blocked the path of someone going to a hospital.

I’d therefore want to ask: what kind of COP 26 might be a turning point at Glasgow? One, where random groups come parachuting in and take the headlines?

Or one that binds us in a common human cause, holding power to account, and giving backbone to our politicians - to take the costly steps that dangerous climate change demands?


[i] BBC, What is COP 26 …biggest ever summit: https://bbc.in/3AhltcK

[ii] COP 26 Coalition Global Day of Action. Glasgow rally: https://cop26coalition.org/gda/

[iii] ITV News, “I need to go to hospital”: https://bit.ly/3oB8Ebc - and London Economic interview with Roger Hallam: https://bit.ly/2YoyGUc

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 25 August 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

For the first time in three months, this past week has seen the value of a single Bitcoin, a unit of digital currency, break through the $50,000 mark.

Looking down the centuries, the idea of what a currency is has changed greatly. Once upon a time, a banker kept your gold and issued an IOU. Then the IOUs themselves became the currency, which is why we still see on our modern banknotes: “I promise to pay the bearer on demand…” Such a promise rests on confidence, a word whose Latin roots mean, having faith together.

After the First World War, governments found that they could ditch the gold, and base their currencies on confidence alone.[i] This was good for the environment. It reduced the need to dig gold out from one hole in the ground, only to bury it again beneath a bank in another hole in the ground.

The production of a single ounce of gold emits about one ton of greenhouse gases.[ii] You’d think that digital currencies would therefore be perfect in a world of climate change. Not even paper money! Just strings of coded numbers, floating in thin air.

But what folks may not quite realise, is that cryptocurrencies are “mined” by vast banks of computers solving complex mathematical puzzles. The electricity used in producing Bitcoin alone is estimated as equivalent to a medium-sized European country.[iii] And dollar for dollar, mining Bitcoin emits between three and fifteen times the greenhouse gas emissions of mining gold.[iv]

When Jesus was questioned about Roman taxes, he asked to see the currency. Caesar’s face was stamped onto the coin. It showed who was responsible. But crypto-currencies are faceless currencies, and so it’s hard to figure out who takes responsibility.

In a world beset by dangerous climate change, we might want to think about our economic systems, our currencies and where we place our confidence. Our faith together.


[i] Gold Standard, Royal Mint: https://bit.ly/3Ddf6dl

[ii] Greenhouse Gas and Gold Mines, S&P Global: https://bit.ly/2XT2uIf

[iii] Bitcoin … ‘It’s a dirty currency’, Financial Times, https://on.ft.com/3guiTJw

[iv] Mining Bitcoin … Mining Gold, Nature, https://go.nature.com/3mrwjtF; Comparing … Gold and Bitcoin, Visual Capitalist: https://bit.ly/3ms7i1n.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 2 July 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Madainn mhath, good morning.

The heather has set been on fire this week. Parts of social media have been ablaze with a debate about the Gaelic language; and later this morning, the University of the Highlands and Islands will host a public webinar on what’s being called, “the Gaelic Crisis”.[i]

The crisis codifies far more than language in isolation. For example, in this year of Covid we’ve seen rural homes more than ever snapped up as holiday “bolt holes”, leaving the younger generation priced out of their own communities.

It begs the question: What is Gaelic? Yes, it’s a language that we may or may not speak. But it’s also the whole spiritual groundswell of a culture. As Rhoda Meek said from Tiree this week: it’s in the soil and sea; in the place-names, stories and the memories; and in “the wind, the birds and the flowers”.[ii]

In the Bible, Ezekiel the prophet has a vision. He sees the scattered nations of the languages restored again. A river flows from out beneath the threshold of the temple, that mighty stream of righteousness, of justice - and it waters on both sides of its banks, the Tree of Life.

Notice that it’s not just our side. It’s both sides. Because its leaves are “for the healing of the nations.” The nations, plural. The vision of a world rejoicing in diversity in all its richness.

Ezekiel crowns it all, with land reform. The land will be reallocated, even to the children of the foreigners, that all might then become again: indigenous.[iii]

And so: What cure, the Gaelic Crisis?

A framework of robust government policies, for sure. But also, ask the older Gaels about their faith. Their connection to the land, to nature, and to layers and layers of spiritual depth. Rejoicing in diversity for the healing of the nations.


[i] UHI webinar One Year On: ‘The Gaelic Crisis and the Vernacular Community’, 1100 – 1230, Fri 2 July, https://bit.ly/3yhRsJx

[ii] Rhoda Meek, “Let my language die with dignity”, blog, 30 June 2021, https://bit.ly/3hpz0HV

[iii] Ezekiel 47, Revelation 22, and a wee nod to Amos 5:24.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 12 March 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

This week began with International Women’s Day. But the tragedy around Sarah Everard was unfolding, and on Wednesday, a YouGov poll revealed that 80% of women have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.[i]

Many shared their outrage on social media. They said they often don’t feel safe outdoors, and that men must take responsibility. But that demands the eyes and heart to see the problem.

It made me think about a story of two women in Mark’s gospel.[ii] An official called Jairus begs Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter. As he sets off to their house, another woman comes to touch his coat, hoping to find healing. 

A symmetry of numbers connects them both. The girl was twelve years old, just on the cusp of womanhood. And we’re told the woman had been bleeding, for the same length of time.

Most translations into English don’t bring out her depth of suffering. They speak about her “illness”, her “affliction” or her “plague” that doctors couldn’t cure. But the Greek original puts it much more strongly. It suggests a tortuous, even an “oppressive pain”; and specifically, such as that caused by a metal-studded whip.[iii]

What’s more, when Jesus asked the older woman why she’d touched him, she tells “the whole truth” or, as an old translation puts it much better: “the truth of every hinge”.[iv]

This hints that more is going on than meets the eye. The woman’s plight is in a highly patriarchal culture. With eyes to see and heart to feel, could that be what the story is about?

The girl is dead when Jesus gets there. But he raises her with words of affirmation - “Young woman, stand up!”[v] - and he tells her father and her mother, to give her nourishment.

Now, the week of International Women’s Day is drawing to a close. I leave you with a thought: What nourishment is called for in our times? And what, to stand against the powers of patriarchy?


[i] Guardian, https://bit.ly/3l42a0G

[ii] Mark 5:21-43 NIV: https://bit.ly/3qGay7M

[iii] Mastigos/mastix as in Mark 5:29 & 34: https://biblehub.com/greek/3148.htm

[iv] Mark 5:33, Tyndale Bible of 1526: https://biblehub.com/parallel/mark/5-33.htm

[v] Mark 5:41 with Greek links to Strongs: https://biblehub.com/text/mark/5-41.htm

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 12 January 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

As the violence of the storming of the United States Capitol building becomes clearer, legislators are considering their response to President Trump’s role.

While the news was unfolding, I found myself in a strange situation: for I had just concluded sitting with my elderly mother as she went through her last days in a care home.

At both the global and the personal levels, things were in tumult; and yet, not for the first time in life, I experienced what I’ve come to think of as the spiritual light of death.

Through it I saw how much she’d loved me, how much I loved her; and moreover: this light shone out onto the sufferings of the world, and from a God who says: “I am with you always.”

The care home that we’d found is run by a Jewish charity, one that accepts people of all faiths, and there I’d witnessed an exquisite tenderness and presence of being in how the staff had nursed her.

A housekeeper told me, “It’s hard work, but we all love it here.” And a carer mentioned how she’d sometimes drop in on days off, just to add a helping hand.

Most of them weren’t Jewish and neither is our family. These were just ordinary Glasgow folks; but in that light of death they appeared to me as spiritual threads that wove a scintillating fabric.

In the days that followed, as my mind glanced over to America, I thought of how each one of us can help to heal the hurts a wider world experiences. The hurts to democracy, the hurts that Trump has caused, perhaps the hurts to him, and in his followers; and all at so many levels 

America’s legislators may or may not act this week. But each of us can act.

Each of us can weave a little love into the fabric of the world, and maybe ask what human beings are for, and maybe take a cue … from care home workers … and maybe even, learn how to build a care society.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 14 December 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

Later today, in a process of bewildering complexity, each state in America will cast its Electoral College votes to determine who’ll be next president.[1]

The way was cleared for Joe Biden’s near-inevitable win early on Friday evening, when the Supreme Court rejected Donald Trump’s last ditch legal bid to have millions of votes invalidated.

So great was the president’s upset, that at the White House Christmas party that night – an event already controversial because of Covid – it had to be announced that the man himself would not be coming downstairs to greet his hundreds of guests.[2]

Biden’s tally should far outweigh Trump’s when the College votes get counted - with much pomp and ceremony - on sixth January. But as they’re being cast today, like at the Biblical feast of King Belshazzar, a hand will likely sketch “the writing on the wall”.

As the prophet Daniel interpreted that writing long ago: “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting [and] your reign brought to an end.”[3]

During hard times, Trump’s mother Mary Macleod had emigrated from the Isle of Lewis; and it was another Lewis-born figure of that era, the Gaelic scholar Dr John MacInnes, who used to say that the old folks had a saying: an image to describe the day of death.

They’d speak about, “The Day of the Mountain.” In Gaelic, Latha mòr na Beinne. “The Great Day of the Mountain.”[4]

Today, Donald Trump stands before a power that’s greater than his hubris. A humbling power. But let this not be just about “the Donald”. Or even just America. In metaphor, this is you and me as well, and this as both individuals and nations.

At times in life we all must face the writing on the wall. But there’s wisdom written there. And so I leave with you a thought. The Day of the Mountain.


[1] US election timeline, CNN politics: https://cnn.it/3nsaVlP

[2] Hill Reporter, 12 Dec 2020 (also Washington Post): https://bit.ly/3ndIF64

[3] Daniel 5, verses 27 & 26, NIV adapted.

[4] Timothy Neat, The Day of the Mountain, Royal Scottish Academy, 2016 (Giles Sutherland blogspot): https://bit.ly/3m8f5O8; attributed by Neat to John MacInnes in email pers. com. 4 August 2020. The Gaelic pronounced like, “la more na bennya”. Accentuation here as advised by scholar Michel Newton.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 11 November 2021 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

Yesterday saw the publication of a powerful new report from Community Land Scotland, the umbrella group for land trusts.[i] Researched by scholars from Coventry and Glasgow universities, it reveals that one in three acres of the West Highlands had been acquired through the influx of a billion pounds in modern money terms – by owners who had been enriched, by slavery.

No more was such land to be valued for how many lives it could support. Instead, it became a commodity, to use for sport and raising sheep for profit.

That’s the basic story of the Highland Clearances, of the earlier Lowland Clearances, and in England, the Enclosures. But what most astonished me was the report’s summary, as it starts with the killing of George Floyd and so, to Black Lives Matter.

I found myself thinking about Georgia in America’s election. How some 800,000 African Americans were got onto the electoral roll due to the efforts of Stacy Abrams, the daughter of two Methodist preachers; a woman who says: “my ministry is government”. And the late Congressman John Lewis, who urged us never to forget that the black civil rights movement “was built on deep-seated religious convictions”.[ii]

I thought too of the 19th century Scottish land reformers who drew upon the same theology of liberation to free themselves from slavery’s rebound effects at home.[iii] And the tragic irony of how the Hebridean ancestors of President Trump’s mother had been evicted in the early eighteen hundreds – on orders that ensued from a slave-owning governor of the Barbados.

And so … today comes round again … Remembrance Day. It was for freedom that they fell.

We must not look just backwards to their sorrowed graves.

We must look forwards, to take away the roots of war, and stand for freedom, peace and justice in these times.


[i] Iain MacKinnon & Andrew Mackillop (2020). Plantation slavery and landownership in the west

Highlands and Islands: legacies and lessons, Community Land Scotland, http://bit.ly/landandslavery

[ii] Abrams and Lewis references in Twitter thread at https://bit.ly/38qGcRj; Donald Trump’s mother references in both titles at https://bit.ly/38uRGDe, http://bit.ly/2wswo8w & http://bit.ly/Island-Spirituality

[iii] Donald E. Meek (1987). ‘“The Land Question Answered from the Bible”; The Land Issue and the Development of a Highland Theology of Liberation’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 103:2, pp. 84-89.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 29 September 2020 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

Yesterday I chanced to catch a blog put out by Donald Macaskill, the head of Scottish Care, an umbrella organisation for care homes. Titled, “200 Days of Emptiness”, it reflected on the length of time that care home lockdown has now been in place.[1] I was moved to see an official write with such compassion of what he called, “the emptiness of grieving, of lostness and aloneness.”

Right now, I’m in at first hand. Our mother in her nineties lived an independent life in Stornoway until a fall that banged her head. Now, and with immense gratitude to council carers and the Lewis Hospital, my sister and I have brought her down to nursing care here in Glasgow, where she’ll be closer to family.

I completely get the need for coronavirus restrictions, yet it’s hard to visit a confused loved one through just open doors or windows. I asked the care home manager how they’re coping. She said that the psychological load on residents and their families, “is horrendous”.

“But what about your staff? What’s it like for all of you?”

“I don’t feel depressed,” she replied. “But I feel sad all the time.”

It was easier back in April, May and June. People clapped for carers and the NHS. Even the police when going past the home might give a little flash of the blue light. But now as things routinise, she’s worried that the old may be forgotten.

My mind turned to a story in the Bible: that when Israel’s King David had grown “old and stricken in years”, they covered him with clothes, but he could get no heat.[2]

And so my thought today is with all care home staff - as they give heat, and human warmth beyond the covering of clothes.

Prayer is more than just a thing we do. It’s that which God does through us.

May all who might be caught up in “the emptiness of grieving, of lostness and aloneness” - experience such deeper layers of warmth around them.


[1] Donald Macasckill, Scottish Care, https://bit.ly/3cCNrpb

[2] 1 Kings 1:1.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 7 Aug 2020 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

Following the explosion in Beirut this week, analysts have warned that the fragile economy and government of Lebanon will likely fail without international help.

It brought back to me a visit to the city several years ago. I was speaking at a conference, and walked around the tiny shops and market stalls that fringed the harbour area. I had to watch my step, not from any sense of personal danger, but because the nation’s poverty gaped from out of huge and random holes left unmarked in the streets by under-resourced work crews.

And yet, there was a dignity about this tiny land with an area no greater than the Central Belt of Scotland, for Lebanon gives sanctuary to a million refugees, more per head of population than any other country in the world.

When at first the Beirut blast went off, many thought it was a nuclear device. The force, indeed, was nearly a tenth of what had hit Hiroshima seventy-five years ago yesterday. This Sunday, likewise, will mark the anniversary of Nagasaki’s utter destruction.

Both of those American bombs were dropped with British consent.[1] This week, while granting that opinions differ, the Church of Scotland called for nuclear weapons to be rejected “entirely”,[2] and the Catholic bishops called for the vast sums spent to be redirected “in the Common Good of society”.[3]

Wars are the final failure of governments, and what happened in Beirut seems also to have been a failure of governance. The biggest threats to world security today, from pandemics to climate change, are threats no bomb can ever blast away.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, said a prophet who sprung up from close to Lebanon.

We too must hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God’s own justice. We too must double down and build a solidarity of nations: so that we too may build the common good.

 

[1] The Quebec Agreement, 1943: https://bit.ly/3a26Leg

[2] Church of Scotland’s signing of WCC interfaith statement 2020: https://bit.ly/3gzVtk1

[3] Catholic Bishops’ Statement on Nuclear Weapons 2020: https://bit.ly/3fxoXh1

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 1 July 2020 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

Yesterday marked a hundred days of lockdown, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed an increasing brittleness on social media. Folks feel understandably fraught, and some of us get more reactive than responsive.

Perhaps not unrelated, there’s been a surge in conspiracy theories. Websites that might normally promote racism, or climate change denial, have been putting it around that the coronavirus is not an epidemic, but rather, what they call, a “plandemic” – a planned release from germ warfare labs or 5G phone masts.[i]

Videos that have had millions of viewings link COVID-19 to Bill Gates and the World Health Organisation. These portray a hodgepodge of bizarre plots, such as seeking world domination by using vaccines to control our minds.

What’s more, a report just out this week from the Pew Research Center found that a quarter of Americans believe that it is probably or definitely true “that powerful people intentionally planned the coronavirus outbreak.”[ii]

Psychologists speak of what they call “the conspiracy mentality” – found in people who are more likely to be male, lonesome, and of insecure social standing. In his book, Conspiracy Theories, Professor Quassim Cassam sees it as satisfying a need to be able to point a finger of blame for what is usually just random events.[iii]

“The truth will set you free”, say the scriptures. But “what is truth?” asked Pilate at the trial of Jesus?[iv]

We test truth partly in relationship with one another. We all need holding in the warp and weft that weaves the baskets of our lives. But for some folks, lockdown has laid out too much warp, and at warp speed, leaving them perhaps over-stretched and frayed out at the ends.

As lockdown starts to lift, let’s be patient with each other. Let’s try and weave a healthy weft from side to side, back into the basket of community.

 

[i] “How the ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy theory took hold”, The Guardian https://bit.ly/2YHXeFg

[ii] Pew Research Center, 29 June (36% of 71%): https://pewrsr.ch/2YItmZs

[iii] Quassim Cassam, Conspiracy Theories, Polity, Cambridge, 2019.

[iv] John 8:32; John 18:38.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 19 May 2020 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, who is a Quaker and a world-renowned expert

in the Faeries

 

Good Morning

And if there’s any children listening in today, this one’s for you – “If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise….”

You see, this week is a special week for two reasons. It’s Biodiversity Week, which is about looking after all the plants and animals and birds and fishes in nature. And it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is about keeping our minds strong and happy, and being kind to one another.

This lockdown has been very hard for many children, but I’ve been playing a little game. When I was young, my mother told me stories about genies in bottles and faeries at the bottom of the garden.

Now, there’s a sort old prayer that says - “Give us this day our daily exercise” - and when my wife Vérène and I go out for walks, we’ve been making little videos of magical things in nature, and sending them to family friends with children.

Like the other day, I went down the garden, and a huge ring of daisies was hiding behind the rockery … and I knew that must have been where the fairies had held their wedding the night before.

Somebody complained that the daisies weren’t keeping two metres apart, but for faeries, its just - two millimetres.

Serena’s dad, Peter, is a Glasgow electrician, and her mum Amrita sent us back a video of him hunting faeries in the bluebells. You see, whenever he muddles up the colours of his wires, there’s a flash of magic sparks, and they spring up as bluebells where they hit the ground.

And then, Aviva wrote to say that if she had a genie in a bottle, she’d wish for all the endangered plants and animals to have homes, and for all the refugees and homeless people to be made welcome – which would be very good for both Biodiversity and Mental Health Awareness week.

So whatever our age, let our lockdown be our faerie hill. The best cure for boredom is to open up the imagination - and then, who knows just how the world might change.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 16 April 2020 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

The lockdown may not be so bad for those of us with a decent house and company to keep the loneliness at bay.

But if you’re old your home might start to feel a little like a cell in solitary, and there are worrying statistics about the huge jump in reports of domestic abuse.

I have a friend, an English storyteller Martin Shaw, who tells a tale about Siberia of old.[i] If somebody wanted to harm another, it’s said they’d crawl into their tent at night and shut the flap over their smoke hole. That way, God could not look down and see what it was that they did.

For those who find their smoke hole now closed over by the virus, where are God’s eyes and ears and hands today?

Perhaps, sometimes, we look as through a hole too wee, too high, too far away: and we miss the all around. My father was a doctor on the Isle of Lewis. I vividly recall him saying when he was dying that he felt supported by his patients: as if upheld upon “a bed of prayer.”

We don’t have to be religious to hold each other in our living prayers. A text or call by internet or phone. A gift sent through the post. A card that just says - “with you” – these little things that draw aside the smoke hole flap, and drop down through the hole, and let a shaft of starlight from the heavens stream in too.

Allow me, if you will, to leave you with an old prayer from the Hebrides, one used as a form of comfort during times of sickness.[ii]

The hands of God be round thee

The eye of God be over thee

The love of the King of the heavens

Drain from thee thy pain


[i] Dr Martin Shaw, “Pandemic & Mythic Meanings of this Cultural Moment”, “Pandemic & Mythic Meanings of this Cultural Moment”, YouTube, 3 April 2020, video https://bit.ly/3eoXgYs. I have tweaked Carmichael’s translation from the Gaelic, “pang”, to “pain”. He used that only to avoid a later repetition.

[ii] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Floris Books, Edinburgh, 1992, p. 423.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 12 March 2020 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

In the short span of this year so far, we’ve seen the unfolding of one shock to our sense of normality after another: whether it’s been the bush fires in Australia, the record floods in Britain, and now coronavirus worldwide.

Partly these are what the insurance industry relishes in calling Acts of God. Well, at least somebody still credits God for something, even if it’s only for the blame.

But partly, if acting true to Biblical form, God mirrors back what wittingly or unwittingly we’ve brought upon ourselves.

The fires and floods have probably been made worse by climate change, driven by human impact on the planet. The spread of coronavirus is speeded by globalisation, driven by fossil fuels that enable so much travel 

If the poor can’t afford to stop working when they’re sick, or even in America to have virus testing,[1] then the fabric of the so-called affluent society starts to unravel.

That makes me think about the strengths we need into the future. In 1966, when I was a boy on Lewis, we had six weeks with very little food delivered to the island, because the seamen were on strike. We got by - we had the produce of the land, and of the sea - but it was also about our resilience of community. As a local newspaper reporter put it, there was a spirit of “Christian generosity” rather than everyone for themselves.[2]

Sometimes then, the worst brings out the best. I think of the woman in a burnt out region of Australia, who told Prime Minister Morrison: “our town doesn’t have a lot of money, but we have hearts of gold.”[3] And also from Australia, of the two little girls who pooled their tooth faerie money, and used it to buy toilet rolls for pensioners who’d run out due to panic buying.[4]

We may not be able to save ourselves from succumbing to every misfortune. But we can build up togetherness in our communities. We too, can cultivate our hearts of gold.


 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 3 January 2020 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

I wonder how New Year has felt for you this year? To me, it’s felt different from the new millennium of twenty years ago. Not least, our screens are filled with fire, as an area already half the size of Scotland has been destroyed in Australia.

What can we do? when anything might seem so little. It got me thinking of an old folk tale in one of Dostoevsky’s novels.*

There was once a mean old woman, and when she died her soul was seized upon and dragged downstairs by demons to the lake of brimstone fire. But her guardian angel felt sad, and went upstairs, and said to the Almighty: “Could you do me a favour, and spare her from this fate?”

God tugged long upon the divine beard, and then replied: “Tell me: did she ever do just one good thing to anyone?”

“Ah!” said the angel. “Once she gave a spring onion to a passing beggar woman.”

“Ah ha!” said God, rummaging in the Great Cosmic Cupboard. “I’ve got that very spring onion, right here.

“Take it back downstairs, and if you can drag her out with it, I’ll let you bring her up to join the Saved.”

So, the angel stretches out the onion across the fiery lake, and the woman grabs the end; and ever so gently, she’s being drawn to safety, when … all the other lost souls see, and grab hold of her dress, and try and hitch a ride.

“Get off!” she shouts. “Get off! It’s MY spring onion!”

At which, the onion breaks, and she falls back into the fires of her own burning selfishness.

Later this year, the United Nations brings leaders of the world to Glasgow to act on climate change. But what might each of us in our own ways bring to the table?

Perhaps we only have a spring onion. But even small acts of generosity can grow to shape the fate of nations. May that be Scotland’s message to the world this year.

 

    * Dostoevsky, The Karamazov Brothers, Part 3, Chapter 3, and translator Ignat Avsey’s note to p. 443 of OUP edn., mentioning that Dostoevsky wrote the fable down from an old woman, and wrote: “It’s a gem.”

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 13 August 2019 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

Since the death in custody of the American financier and convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein last week, the media has been awash with speculation as to suicide or murder.

The only thing of which we can be sure, is that we don’t know. But that didn’t stop the current president of the United States from re-tweeting a comedian’s conspiracy theory, that used Epstein’s passing to cast suspicion on a former president.

Truth or lies? Does it matter? Well, Mahatma Gandhi of India was clear on why it mattered.

“The world,” he wrote, “rests upon the bedrock of Truth, or Satya.Satya is a Sanskrit word, that also means reality. Truth is therefore nothing less than faithfulness to reality. To be seduced away from truth, or to seduce others out of it, is to spin a world that, as they’d say, is “no’ real”.

And here we glimpse the deeper problem of figures like Jeffrey Epstein.

Great riches, celebrity and unaccountable power exert a magnetism. It’s so easy to get drawn in by their blandishments, and, little by little, to normalise a loss of truth and integrity in both private and public affairs.

The sixty-second Psalm is all about such spells of power, about the loss of footing in reality that comes about through falsehood, extortion and setting our hearts on riches.

Intriguingly, it says that power belongs to God, and that God has spoken only once about such matters. But we as the listeners - it suggests that we need to hear it twice.

Why two times? Perhaps, because it’s not enough only to hear things. Mostly, we also have to learn out of experience.

By stumbling, or watching others stumble, we see more clearly how not to trip or be tripped up.

That was why Gandhi called for grounding in the satya, an ever-deepening truthfulness to what is real. It dispels all illusions, and whether at the personal or the political level, such truth shall set us free.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 26 July 2019 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

Tomorrow is the most important day of the year in the Lewis parish of my childhood. It’s the Lochs Agricultural Show, and there’ll be similar shows and Highland games up and down the length and breadth of Scotland.

I’ve got friends who head home specially at this time, because these events are not just about parading prize bulls, judging monster gooseberries, or guessing a salmon’s weight.

They’re also about the inner life of communities. A time to pull together, perhaps to set aside some differences, and enjoy each other.

No doubt there’ll be talk at this year’s show of Boris Johnson, Brexit, and what yesterday’s record temperatures are telling us about the balance of nature.

But also, people will be pondering on what it takes to pull community back into place, community as right relationship with one another and the Earth.  

I was on the phone to Iain Maciver who helps to organise the Lochs Show. We talked about our boyhoods in the 1960’s, when they still had a judging category for hand-pleated heather rope.

We chuckled at an old legend, of how such crafts once towed the Western Isles into their geographical location.

You see, the isles were once an island off the coast of Normandy. But then the Vikings came to take it. They wove a cable of four strands: of heather for strength, hemp that floats, wool for comfort, and the fourth was women’s hair. 

They looped it through an eye of rock, took up the strain and rowed. But a huge chunk broke off, becoming Ireland. Then the rest sank in a terrible storm, and, behold the glory of the Hebrides. 

So it was, by human hand and acts of God, that our communities were pulled into their present shape.

And in these storm-tossed times, I just wonder what might be the qualities we need to weave together again today: the strands of heather and of hemp, the wool, and locks of flowing hair?

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0720, 3 July 2019 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

We’re in July, with many of us off on holidays, which once were holy days and times of pilgrimage. At least, they were ‘till Martin Luther came along, and told the German nobility that pilgrimage gave “countless causes of sin,” and should be done away with.

But perhaps to not upset the nobles, he did allow for non-religious travelling, just “out of curiosity”; and so it is that we, in our more sinful moments, might think of Martin Luther as the Patron Saint of Tourism.

Sometimes … our holidays can seem to need a patron saint. The other day I had a text – a latter-day postcard, I suppose - from my daughter-in-law on holiday in France. They’d taken refuge in the cool of an old stone church, and she was sitting in the priest’s chair, breastfeeding my grandson, while outside it was forty plus degrees.

Then Kenneth Macleod from Stornoway texted from his break away to say they’d all been clobbered by the lurgy. We joked that holidays can be the only time that busy people have the time to fall ill; and so the body gets to slow down.

You’d think the holy island of Iona would be just right for chilling out, but George MacLeod, who founded the Iona Community, likened it to climbing back into the trenches of the First World War.

I was blethering with one of the Abbey’s senior staff. She told me she’d been leading a pilgrimage walk, utterly exhausted from several years' labours, and was coming down onto the west Atlantic machair.

Suddenly she became aware that she was being carried – by George MacLeod on one side, and Saint Columba on the other. Carried, I ask you!

I know it’s a bonkers story, and it makes no logical sense. But it makes perfect mythic sense within the workings of the inner life. It gave her strength to carry on.

“God carry me,” I thought. “God carry me” - I’ll sometimes mutter, beneath my breath, and safely out of earshot, and not just on the Holiday from Hell.

Go well, and bon voyage!

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 19 June 2019 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

I found myself caught up in a disturbing incident the other night. But before I tell you about that, next week the Human Rights Council of the United Nations will receive a Special Rapporteur’s submission on racism, xenophobia and intolerance in Britain today.*

To its credit, the UK government had invited the study. But the findings are that while there’s mostly good legislation in place, poor implementation means that minority groups still suffer some very serious disadvantages.

The report has been warmly welcomed by BEMIS, the Glasgow-based umbrella organisation that works with minority communities. They single out the praise for Scotland, specifically, for our New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy.

The UN considers this to mark “a departure” from what can otherwise be “the rhetoric and policies of a hostile environment.”

But tackling racism is not just about dignified actions from officialdom. It’s mainly about us, about who we want to be as a peoples, and what we deem as right, or unacceptable.

And so, to that incident. On Monday night, I was at a Glasgow bus stop, when suddenly a drunk guy hurled a cigarette butt at a Muslim woman. Rather amazingly, as if it was all choreographed, four of us, strangers to each other, stepped out of the queue and surrounded him.

He refused to apologise, so we called the police. After twenty minutes, they called back to say that they were struggling to find the capacity to attend.

But by that time, we’d made our point to the perpetrator, who was something of a poor soul really. And so we went our separate ways.

Before parting, I just remarked: “You know: the bad news, is that the police were too busy. The good news, is that we’re living in a Scotland where we all intervened, and calmed the situation down.”

Jesus never said, “Blessed are the peaceful.” He said, “Blessed are the peace-makers.” It’s about what we do. Each one of us, at every opportunity.

We get the kind of Scotland that we make.

 

    * UN Report: http://bit.ly/UNracismUK or https://t.co/GER7jrwNGi and click E ( English) on far right side.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 18 March 2019 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

As the Muslim community in Christchurch this week mourn their loved ones, including some who had fled to New Zealand seeking sanctuary, the name of faith has yet again been tangled with mass murder.

In his chilling manifesto, the Australian killer justifies white supremacy, in part, by quoting thousand-year-old material from the First Crusade, urging “the race of the elect” to “fight against the enemies of the Christian people.”

While you can find religious texts like that, the overwhelming spirit of all three Abrahamic faiths is that violence against strangers is unconscionable.

The Jewish scriptures insist that the stranger, foreigner or alien be treated “as the native among you”, because, “you too were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The Christian scriptures have Jesus starting life as a refugee to Egypt, and later saying, “I was a stranger, and you took me in.”

The website of the UN High Commission for Refugees quotes the Qur’an, that if any disbeliever seeks protection, “escort him to where he will be secure.”*

But what might such a spirit mean in practical terms?

These past few days, I’ve seen images of people outside mosques with placards saying things like, “Jewish New Yorkers Support Our Muslim Neighbors.”**

Andrew Graystone of Manchester City of Sanctuary stood outside a mosque, his placard saying, “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.”***

In times like these, let such be our prayer or deepest yearning too. If we see a person looking insecure, maybe offer a friendly greeting or a little smile. If someone might seem vulnerable on the bus, maybe sit close enough to be a reassuring presence.

“You shall love the stranger as yourself,” says the Bible’s book of Leviticus.  Whether we believe or not there is a God of love, that’s the only faith that dignifies humanity.

 

*  Leviticus 19:33-34, etc.; Matthew 25:35; UNHCR goo.gl/GwP3ey

**   @JewishAction - https://twitter.com/jewishaction/status/1106634796149735424

*** @AndrewGraystone - https://goo.gl/Nk2YkB

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 19 February 2019 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

A recent survey found that one in four Scots – well over a million of us - confess to having stolen from shops with automatic check-outs.*

Loses have gone up from one-and-a-half percent, to four percent at self-scanning tills. The criminologists say that some folks don’t quite think of it as stealing when “interacting with a machine”, and so the world becomes more alienated.

Such thoughts of thieving sent me back to when I used to be a VSO teacher in Papua New Guinea. Some timber for our classrooms had been stolen. I went and told my boss, Archbishop Virgil Copas, a saintly old Australian who sadly shook his head, and said, “I just hope that their need was greater than ours.”

I’m not a Catholic, but such was my introduction to the radical face of Catholic social teaching. In both their catechism, and one of Pope Paul’s encyclicals, what’s called the “universal destination of goods” – the purpose of possessions - is to serve the whole of humankind, and especially guests, the sick and the poor.

But where justice has failed, where desperation gnaws at the body and soul in the midst of plenty, formal Catholic teaching holds that “there is no theft”**, and that a person “has the right to procure for himself what he needs out of the riches of others.”***

Well! Where might that one leave Scottish retailing, with loses of fourteen million a year at automated check-outs alone?

Of course, there will be opportunist thefts, but ultimately, it’s all about relationship. If we use shops, then we’re part of them, and normally our duty will be not to steal but to strengthen right relationships. For myself, sometimes I’ll play “help the shop”, choosing for example to take the bashed can - because the shop helps us.

But the shops in turn must do their part for right relationships. That means ethical trading, paying tax and dignified employment. Then we move towards a world that rebuilds trust, one that reverses alienation at the checkout.

 

The Scotsman “One in four Scottish shoppers are stealing from self-serve machines”, 18-2-19, https://goo.gl/79HYkC

**  Catholic Catechism, 2401-2405 & especially 2408,  https://goo.gl/tAoYTk

***  Gaudium et spes,  Encyclical of Pope Paul, 1965, 69, https://goo.gl/i5tQFt

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 29 January 2019 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

Today will be the day of the Division Bell, when politicians divide in the lobbies to determine amendments to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

It’s not just one bell that summons MPs to vote, but near-on four hundred throughout the Palace of Westminster and even pubs and clubs nearby.

And it’s not just the Commons that’s divided over Brexit, but parties, constituencies, and many MPs are divided within themselves.

Its significance reminds me of the Bhagavad Gita, the most sacred text of Hinduism.

Here a mythical prince, Arjuna, stands in the middle of the greatest battlefield of all time. But the army that he faces is an army of his own nearest and dearest – fathers, uncles, brothers and friends.

He cries out to Krishna, the very incarnation of God, and complains that “life goes from my limbs, my great bow falls from my hands, [and] my mind is whirling and wandering.”

Mahatma Gandhi said that this is not about literal warfare. It’s about those situations in which we all find ourselves – whether Brexit’s division bells or more everyday affairs – in which we’re riven with anxiety at what can seem to be impossible decisions.

Where the resolution? The Gita’s answer lies in its very first line. “On the field of Truth, on the battlefield of life, what came to pass, Sanjaya…?”

What comes to pass in everyday events is nested in the wider passage of our lives, and that in turn is nested on the field of Truth, what Hindus call the Dharma – in Christian translation, “the way, the truth and the life”.

And Sanjaya - he was the eagle-eyed charioteer to the blind king, Dhrita-rashtra – showing us that political power, or the ego’s power, when on their own are always blind.

When the Division Bell sounds, whether over Brexit or our daily concerns - only that eagle-eyed fixation on a higher calling can help resolve relationships, upon the battlefield of life.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 10 December 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

In a half an hour’s time, the European Court will give its final judgement on whether Article 50 can be withdrawn, should Parliament rethink Brexit after tomorrow’s vote.

Meanwhile, today is the shared 50th anniversary of the death of two of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. The Swiss Protestant, Karl Barth, whose ideas softened Scottish Calvinism. And the American Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, who opened dialogues across divides in seeking peace on Earth.

Peace may be no easy task on this small corner of the Earth this week. Is there anything to learn from Barth and Merton?

Shaken by the two world wars that ravaged Europe, Barth said he decided for theology, “to find a better basis for my social action.”

Merton loved his thought, because it opened social action into deeper levels.

They both believed we cannot be the masters of our politics, if not connected to the very source of grace, a way of being human, that wells up from beyond our conscious ken.

Just months before their deaths, Merton wrote that 1968 had been “a beast of a year”. Vietnam was raging, Martin Luther King lay slaughtered; it felt like hope itself was running retrograde.

“Why?” he asked.

“Is the Christian message of love a pitiful delusion?”

Or can thrawn times encode prophetic meaning?

Can it be, as a Thai Buddhist monk once put it - that we open to the higher ways of love … only when we learn to sit within the tiger’s mouth?

“What use is that?” we might well ask.

Perhaps, to pray for those who harm us - to hold them in a place of shared humanity - leaves space between the tiger’s jaws for grace.

It frees us to confront life’s wrongs, yet not dehumanise the other. And thereby, not to take upon ourselves the likeness of the very things we may oppose.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 28 November 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

    There's a 1 minute video to illustrate this one - click here then click the play button - to see Norman Bissell of the Isle of Luing talking about their coastal defences.

Good Morning

Friday is Saint Andrew’s Day, a bank holiday in Scotland; a day when if so inclined, we can spare a thought about his message, that might be more contemporary than first meets the eye.

The mass migration of people has been in the news this week. Children from the migrant caravan, tear-gassed at the Mexican border with the US. Desperate people from the Middle East, crossing the English Channel in tiny boats.

The United Nations says that, more and more, climate change is driving poverty, war, and therefore migration from regions like sub-Saharan Africa. They estimate two hundred million people, displaced and on the move by 2050.

Such a contraction in living space is not just overseas. This week, a UK government report on dangerous global warming stated that, within the lifetime of the children born today, Scotland’s sea levels will rise by a metre.

It came viscerally home to me last weekend, when visiting the Isle of Luing near Oban.

There, the community trust showed me how they’ve bought up the mineral rights to an old slate quarry, and they’re dropping rocks along the shore to protect the village from a growing incidence of flooding.

So where does Saint Andrew fit into all of this?

In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, the other disciples fretted at the impossible cost of finding food for so many people.

It was Andrew who found the laddie with loaves and fishes.

You can read it as a miracle of magic, Jesus as a paranormal conjurer. Or you can read it as a miracle of grace, the common wealth of sharing.

Either way, Andrew the fisherman gave up chattering about the price of fish. He landed for them all a catch of kindness; and there we glimpse a patron saint who speaks into our times.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 7 November 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

As the results come in from America’s mid-term elections, I think of Donald John Trump, where he’s come from and where he’s got to.

As the Stornoway Gazette headlined his inauguration: “A man sprung from the loins of a woman from Lewis has taken … control of the most powerful political office in the world.”

Meanwhile, a blockbuster novel by JD Vance called Hillbilly Elegy was widely seen as shedding light on the president’s grassroots voter base.

A base, Vance claims, that his own Scots-Irish heritage has significantly shaped. Yet a heritage that has in part withdrawn into itself. Rooted in the slave plantations, its churches heavy on the rhetoric, its sense of masculinity in crisis … and it passes on its isolation to its children.

When it comes to the American Dream, he concludes, “The demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”

Donald Trump’s mother, Mary Anne Macleod, emigrated in 1930 when she was still seventeen. It was the culmination of a terrible century.

Her ancestors had been evicted in the Clearances. Her childhood saw some one in six of the island’s young men killed in the Great War. Two hundred more perished as their homebound ship, the Iolaire, hit the rocks just four miles from her village.

Then there was the Spanish Flu, and the TB epidemic, and the loss of hope was such that in 1923 alone, a thousand of the island’s population of thirty thousand emigrated to America - mostly men of Mary Anne’s marriageable age range.

The bards tell that it deadened something in the soul. Perhaps it’s like when God said to Ezekiel, “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

And yet, continued God, “No longer shall you [stay like this].”**

No longer should the demons of the lives we’ve left behind pursue the dreams, American or otherwise, of any one of us. Lest we forget.

* - JD Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Collins, London, 2016, pp. 2-5.

** - Ezekiel 18:1-4.   For background on Trump’s maternal psychohistory, see: https://goo.gl/NBp45W

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 26 October 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

There’s been outrage expressed at the pictures taken in Scotland by a self-proclaimed “hardcore professional huntress”, Larysa Switlyk from Florida.*

Calling herself a cross between a tomboy and a model, running a hunting fashion business, she poses with dead animals - guns and crossbows slung around her neck - saying that it’s all about empowering other women to unleash their potential.

The photo-shots taken during visits to Ardnamurchan and Islay, with stags, goats and even a freshly killed blackface ram, were unsettling for many.

Last Saturday was the close of the stag hunting season. With the guests who pay the wages gone away, the hind season opened. There’s no money to be made from that. It’s just the hard slog culling.

The Deer Commission of Scotland requires estates – whether privately or community owned - to keep the numbers down, to safeguard forestry and agriculture, and all of us from road accidents.

But it’s also animal welfare. A clean shot is a kindness compared to slow starvation or disease.

Neither does the tax payer pay. Deer management has to balance both ecology and the books. But in Scotland, most stalkers have an ethic.

As a one-time stalker’s pony boy, I think of Tommy, who’d spend all night out on the hill to track a wounded animal. Or Iain, who accords to every kill the respect he gives a funeral. Megan, who tweets thoughtful nature observations from the stalks she leads. Or Christopher, who’ll raise his favourite toast - “to the soul of the stag.”

A gamekeeper said to me: “This ‘hardcore’ hunting from America lowers the threshold of respect for animals.”

This is not about the Bambification of nature. This is about decorum, a quality of soul. We hurt ourselves if we treat killing lightly. We too are part of the natural ecology, and that’s the lesson from our finest stalkers – whose veneration for the deer, can edge towards the spiritual.

*   Larysa Unleashed website - www.larysaunleashed.com 

     BBC report - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-45977780

Here's how it was - as pony boy to Tommy Macrae, head stalker at Eishken on the Isle of Lewis,

September 1977 when I was 21. That was Sandy on whose back we'd bring the culled deer back to the larder.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 12 August 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

It’s been a past seven days of hard issues that confront the world.

In the UK, the main political conference season drew to a close, with little resolution of the contentions raised by Brexit.

Meanwhile, hurricane Michael has barrelled through Florida, and across the world, questions are surging up around “toxic masculinity”, and what happens when we men – or any gender for that matter – leave in our psychology the deeper shadows unresolved.

What can we do, especially if we’re floundering amidst the torments of the human psyche in our times?

Recently, I hit upon a most peculiar story. If you can bear with me, it’s from the book of Numbers in the Bible.*

There’s poor old Moses, plodding on through the desert for forty years to reach the Promised Land, and his fellow Israelites just gripe and whinge that their food was better back as slaves in Egypt.

God, as it was interpreted, sends a plague of fiery serpents that start to bite and kill them. The people go to Moses for a fix, and Moses goes and has a word with God.

Make a fiery serpent, says God, and set it on a pole; and all who gaze upon it, will live.

So Moses makes his serpent out of gleaming bronze. He hoists it up on high, and all who look upon it, are healed.

A bonkers story? Perhaps. But what incredible psychology! The very symbol of the people’s inner turmoil - toxic when it lurked within the grass and crawled at the unconscious level - became a power for healing when raised into the light consciousness, and faced for what it is.

We too can work to bring our shadow sides to consciousness. We too – as individuals and as nations - can put our brazen serpents onto poles.

Gaze, and see the healing power, as venom turns to balm.

    * - Numbers 21:4-9 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 25 September 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 Good Morning

According to the charity, Cancer Research UK, obesity is set to overtake smoking as the biggest up and coming preventable cause of cancer amongst women.

How we eat is linked to what we’re used to, and in the past we’d be perhaps adapted to the balance and stability of what our natural environments provided.

The story’s told where I grew up, that Donald was the keeper on the big estate. At the end of many year’s of service, the laird said: “To thank you, Donald, I’m going to send you off on holiday - to the best hotel in London.

“But mind, it’s awfully expensive. Do be careful with your choices from the menu.”

A fortnight later, home he comes. “I did exactly as you said, Your Lordship.

“Every day, I ordered just the same as what we eat back here: salmon, venison and lobsters.”

At least his diet wouldn’t have piled on the pounds!

But change the balance of what’s available – bring into Donald’s life the sugared drinks, the two-for-one deals and the high carbohydrate convenience foods - and soon he’d be a-huffing and a-puffing to make it up the hills.

How we eat is shaped by our relationships. Each Thursday night, the GalGael Trust in Govan provides a community meal in its boatbuilding workshop. It’s run by volunteer cooks who conjure up a wholesome fare and take great pride in looking out for everyone.

Blair Hamilton who’s one of these was saying to me yesterday: “When I cook for myself at home, it’s butter, cream and all of that. But not when cooking for GalGael! There, I try to think of five of fruit and veg a day. True that it’s a wee bit more expensive, but we take care of one another.”

 “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Abel asked of Cain in Biblical times, in a murderous dispute sparked off by food. The research published this week on cancer and obesity suggests it can be helpful if we are.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 19 September 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

 Tomorrow sees the completion of a three day summit between the presidents of North and South Korea, an event that, for the first time in ten years, involves a leader from the South, President Moon Jae-in, visiting the North Korean capital.

It’s to try and resolve a division that dates back to the Cold War, much the same as Germany got split between the East and West.

Sigmund Freud observed that splits can be the greatest when we share the most in common. He wrote about “the narcissism of small differences” – the self-obsession that so easily sets up boundaries where there need be none.

It’s not hard to project our negativity outwards and demonise the other, but what about the healing of divisions? Moon Jae-in’s quest in North Korea is being called a mediation bid. And could it be, I wonder, that there’s more than just power politics at play?

Back in March, I was astonished to see the president photographed in a Korean newspaper reading a book called Healing the Heart of Democracy, by Parker Palmer, an American Quaker activist and educator.*

Palmer draws attention to the gap between the realities and the myths that we build up of one another. Realities that could humanise. But myths that feed “the politics of rage”, and when their own foundations crack, expose a “politics of the brokenhearted.”

Whether as nations or as individuals, our capacity to “get well”, becomes our capacity to “get real”.

Our call, is to unclench the fist around the wounded human heart. To see dissolved our narcissism of small differences. To cultivate a shared humanity, so that we learn to live and let live while looking out for one another.

The healing of our politics, says Parker Palmer, is to make a “new normal” of such “habits of the heart”. That, in North and South Korea. That too, much closer home to home.

* https://goo.gl/2xjScR

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2011.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 15 August 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

(Listen here, view pictures here)

 

Good Morning

Today, we remember VJ Day – Victory over Japan in the Second World War - when Emperor Hirohirto surrendered in the face of what he rightly described as “a new and most cruel bomb.”

Amongst the many millions who perished in the war had been thousands of allied prisoners, who were denied the basic safeguards of the Hague Conventions.

Such trauma carries down through time. My Uncle Peter was a man who strangely lacked confidence. If going out in the car, he’d take a long way round to avoid the hills; and my Auntie Ann said he couldn’t eat fried food, because his stomach had been damaged by starvation in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Nuclear weapons brought the war to an end, but where do they leave our future? Even the military – often, especially military commanders - know how such weapons weigh upon the soul.

At the Kitsap-Bangor naval base outside Seattle, a blackened stone plinth stands in the garden of the Ground Zero peace centre. It used to carry a Buddha and the Cross. One night, a couple of drunk marines came in and burned them down.

“What do you make of that?” I asked a yellow-robed monk of a Japanese Buddhist order.

“I truly believe,” he said, “the power of light can come from enduring the burning.”

War burns the world, the world burns on, is there any power to bring it to an end?

Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross hangs in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove.

Painted during his “atomic period”, it shows the cosmic Christ suspended over the world; as Dali saw it, the power that sustains the atom to its very nucleus.

Today is VJ Day. I think of veterans like Uncle Peter, of Trident submariners I have known, and of peace protestors like the monk.

“I truly believe the power of light can come from enduring the burning.”

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 18 July 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

What a week in politics this past week has been, with constitutional crises in Britain over Brexit, and in America over Donald Trump. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling tossed in the turmoil of it all.

With that in mind, you’d hardly think to calm the mind with a reflection on Glasgow’s St Enoch Square. Or rather, a musing on the saint said to be buried in that busy place.

For today in the religious calendar is Enoch’s feast day. Many assume that the saint was a man, but as the historian of Glasgow Elspeth King points out, Enoch was a woman, whose name had shifted down through time.

Thaney, the earliest version of her name, morphed to Tenew, then eventually to today’s Enoch.*

Moreover, she was, as King puts it, “Scotland’s first recorded rape victim, battered woman and unmarried mother,” having suffered at the hands of a Welsh warrior Prince.

A manuscript in the British Library tells that on finding she was pregnant, her father had her tossed from off the cliffs of Traprain Law in East Lothian.

But she survived, and was set adrift in a coracle. The tiny boat drifted across the Forth to Culross Abbey in Fife.

Rescued by the monks, the son to whom she gave birth was named Kentigern, later changed to Mungo, which means “my dear one”. And Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow, “the dear green place”.

Walking over Enoch’s Square, thinking of our agitated times, my mind turns to she whose bones rest there.

In the form of Tenew, her name to me suggests tenacity. Today’s feast day reminds that from enduring suffering, an inner strength can issue forth.

A strength that once gave birth … to “my dear one”.

 

* “What’s in a Name? Thaney or Enoch”, The Innes Review, 51:1, 2000, pp. 80-83.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 27 June 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

Twenty-five years ago, the Assynt Crofters’ Trust took back ownership of the land of their ancestors - an event which is being commemorated all next week.

It opened doors on modern Scottish land reform, and in this past month alone we’ve seen two more buyouts - on the Isle of Ulva in the west, and at Garbh Allt on the east coast. It brings the total under community control to more than half a million acres, nearly 3% of our land area.

But what are the drivers of such a movement? At one level self-governance is practical. Secure tenancies and low cost housing plots for the young. New business opportunities. Renewable energy, local food production and ecotourism, to name a few.

But at a deeper level for some, these land trusts restore the very meaning of community, the meaning of neighbourliness itself and that, reaching all the way through to the spiritual.

In pointing to Assynt as a spur for new legislation, a 1997 report of the Free Church of Scotland said, “A Biblical perspective would suggest that rural land should cease to be treated as a commodity and should be regarded as a trust.”*

This coming Sunday, near the start of its 25th anniversary celebrations, the Assynt Crofters will host an interdenominational service, led by the former superintendent of the Fishermen’s Mission. Historically, that’s an organisation that has pulled people together, standing with them through their times of tragedy and trouble.

It gets me asking, “Who is our neighbour? And who might come up in the next trawl of the net?”

These questions aren’t just for our rural settlements. The stainless steel outer doors of St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh, are inscribed with the text: “I will make you fishers of men.”

There’s the thought that Assynt’s celebration stirs in me. How best to be a Scotland of community, that’s welcoming for all?

 

* - The Land Problem, Free Church of Scotland, 1997,  http://www.caledonia.org.uk/land/documents/land-problem.doc

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 4 May 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

 

Good Morning

We’re back into the May holiday season, and many of us will be heading for the countryside. But for me, a press report this week brought to mind a curious memory.

It was in the mid 1960s. We were in the class of a Miss Graham in Leurbost school on the Isle of Lewis. Outside, the Marsh Marigolds would have been opening, and the Ladysmock and Ragged Robin hotly in pursuit.

Miss Graham was telling us about children in Glasgow who had never seen such flowers, or cows and sheep, or oceans wide.

We were incredulous, and the feeling came back on me this week when I read of a head teacher in the east end of the city repeating the same sentiments - half a century down the line.

According to Nancy Cluny of Dalmarnock Primary School, many of her pupils from deprived backgrounds have never seen a farm, or climbed a mountain or thrown stones in the river.*

And it’s true. I’m involved with a group that reconnects urban people with the countryside.

I think of Kellyanne, who was maybe twenty the first time she caught sight of Loch Lomond from our minibus, and how she just burst into tears. Or Joe, a grown man excited that our trip to Iona was his first time on a Scottish island. And young Dale, who couldn’t get over how clear the ocean waters were.

People say that you can’t eat natural beauty, but the life of the soul doesn’t thrive on bread alone. In the gospels, Jesus was always going between the towns and the wild places to get a bit of peace. The Buddha found enlightenment beneath a tree. The Qu’ran says that the Earth is filled with beauty, to reveal the heavenly goodness.**

That’s why a holiday, like this weekend, was once a holy day. To remind us of the loveliness of life. To be enjoyed not only by the few, but by us all.

 

* The Herald, 3 May 2018, https://goo.gl/f8Bkyx  ** The Qu’ran, Qaf  50:7-8 and Yusuf Ali commentary

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 22 February 2018 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

The Met Office are warning that a cold spell is on its way, and it got me thinking of the times as a boy on Lewis, when the lochs froze over.

There was one near our house – Loch Thobhta Bridein, it means “The Loch of Bridgit’s Ruin” - and the Achmore road runs higher up above it.

One winter’s day, I was going along with my father in the car. We were looking down and out across its frozen surface that glimmered with a peppering of frost.

I can’t remember what he said, perhaps by way of warning; but I remember vividly that some parts of the ice showed circles of a darker shading.

Here the springs that partly fed the loch were plain to see. Their warmer waters rose and made the ice above them - perilously thin.

I was reminded of this recently by an old clipping from the Stornoway Gazette. It told a story of three island boys, and the first had gone out on a frozen loch, and fallen through.

The second, fired with courage from his heart, went charging to the rescue; but he too fell through.

The third, applied his head. He used all his strength, and broke a channel through the ice, and led them back to safety.

I thought about that boy this week, when a UN official said that the humanitarian plight of Syria, is “beyond imagination”.

No-one has a short term answer to Syria, where good folks are falling through the thin ice of civility. But maybe there’s a longer term way forward.

That island boy combined what the Scottish thinker Patrick Geddes spoke of, as “the three H’s”. Courage of the heart. Clear thinking of the head. And muscle of the hands.

Each one of us can carve out channels where we stand - with heart, and head, and hand. Then - perhaps and only then - we build community; and what it takes to start to lead the world to safety.

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 7 Sept 2017 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

At this time of year I love to see the farmers bringing in their harvest, our food to see us through the coming year. But elsewhere in the world, nature’s harvest has a bitter sting.

Already, by Tuesday this week, Hurricane Irma had been declared the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded.* Meanwhile, it was reported that across the world, extreme weather events have become four times more frequent than in 1970.** Scientists attribute this to global warming that is pumping excessive energy and moisture into our weather systems.***

Only the scale of ecological destruction is new today. Nearly three thousand years ago, the Hebrew writers could already read its roots in human hubris, greed and violence.

As the prophet Isaiah said: “The world mourns and withers, the haughty people have become sick, the earth lies polluted by its inhabitants.”****

Archaeology confirms that what was once the Fertile Crescent, the Garden of Eden, became the deserts of Egypt and Iraq.

But does it have to keep on getting worse? Imagine a world that shifts from competitive consumerism, to dignified sufficiency in life. From dumping waste, to an economy with recycling built-in. From filthy energy sources, to ones that are clean and conserving. From ecocide, to ecological regeneration.

Imagine a world that moves from ways that draw down violence on the Earth, to ways that beat out ploughshares from our bygone swords.

That world is fast becoming possible. The best of science and commerce mostly has the hardware. But we must be the software.

Could we perhaps reprogram to the rhythms of nature? If so, the tail of Hurricane Irma might set the seeds to reap a different harvest.

*  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hurricane-irma-record-atlantic-ocean-category-5-track-forecast-path/

** https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/08/daily-chart-19

*** http://science.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full

*** Isaiah 24:4-13, paraphrased from mixed translations.

 

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 28 July 2017 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

It’s the weekend coming up, and many are away on holidays.

In medieval times, the people of the Isle of Lewis where I grew up wouldn’t fly to Lanzarote on holiday. They’d make a pilgrimage to Ness, right in the north of the island.

They say the further north you go, the holier it gets, and when the pilgrims came in sight of St Moluag’s “temple” as it’s called, they’d all drop to their knees in veneration.

According to some reports, they’d later sacrifice a cup of ale to their sea god, Shony, followed by a night of drunken revelry. Medieval pilgrimages, it seems, had quite a bit more in common than you’d first think with a certain kind of package holiday today.

Come the sixteenth century, Martin Luther said that most pilgrimages should be abolished. They encouraged “a vagabond life”. They kept the common people off their work. Worst of all, they provided the occasion for “countless causes of sin.”

Today, however, there’s a growing sense we took the prohibition much too far. In May, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland formally rehabilitated pilgrimage, and currently there’s half a dozen ancient routes being restored, from as far apart as the Borders and Orkney.

Next month I’ll be taking a group of forty American visitors on a mini pilgrimage to Ness, and it’s really been quite wonderful the way that people in the local churches have opened out the warmest welcome.

As an old woman on the island told me, these days “everybody is too busy, and too noisy.” But a pilgrimage, is a holiday with inner intent. By making time, and seeking places of retreat, the “still small voice”* within can find a better chance of being heard.

And so, enjoy your weekend or your holiday, if you’re having one - with or without the sacrifice to Shony.                      

* 1 Kings 19:12, KJV

 

Thought for the Day – c. 0723, 29 June 2017 - BBC Radio Scotland

 

from Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and independent scholar

Good Morning

It was a century ago this week that a young soldier, the poet Wilfred Owen, arrived off the train at Edinburgh. Fresh from the Western Front, he’d come to be treated for what was then called “shell shock” at the Craiglockhart War Hospital.

This past Monday, as part of a continuing programme called Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh, his arrival was re-enacted in period costume. Imagine the young man’s state of mind, having been mortared and concussed in the trenches of the First World War. His poem, Six O’Clock in Princes Street, offers us a glimpse:

Or be you in the gutter where you stand,

Pale rain-flawed phantom of the place,

With news of all the nations in your hand,

And all their sorrows in your face.

At Craiglockhart, Owen and his fellow poet, Siegfried Sassoon, came under the pioneering care of the hospital’s physicians, Captains Brock and Rivers.

Up until then, “shell shock” could be treated as cowardice. Soldiers could even be executed. But Brock and Rivers paved the way for understanding post traumatic stress disorder. Their legacy endures today at Edinburgh’s Rivers Centre, which gives specialist help to the victims of child abuse, rape, disasters and torture.

Post traumatic stress occurs when outer world realities get just too awful for the inner world to bear. For trauma is a wounding of the psyche, as if the soul itself recoils and disconnects the flow between the inner and the outer life. As Captain Brock wrote to Sigmund Freud: “the ordinary progress of the individual’s life appeared to halt.”*

But poetry – even “in the gutter where you stand,/ With news of all the nations in your hand” – poetry, as the Craiglockhart war poets showed us, is a language that can heal the soul - and even start to reconnect a broken world.

* See sources and discussion in my Poacher’s Pilgrimage (Birlinn Books), pp. 167-169.

 

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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