Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Finding Rudolph Steiner

Following on from my recent article about Rudolf Steiner and Edinburgh, readers might be interested in this documentary film by David Antonelli called Finding Rudolph Steiner currently being shown online at Culture Unplugged.

The film is 88 minutes long and begins with scenes from a video game.

The Fairy Boy of Leith - Edinburgh, Fairies and the Calton Hill

Having had my memory jogged this morning I thought I would post this, the original and shorter version of a story from Edinburgh concerning the Fairy Boy of Leith. This version is quoted by Sir Walter Scott in his Poetical Works Vol 2 which explains the roots of some Scottish ballad traditions. The story is quoted in full from its original source and is less embellished than later versions.

Calton Hill from Edinburgh Castle

Scott begins:

The worthy Captain George Burton communicated to Richard Bovet, gent., author of the interesting work, entitled "Pandaemonium, or the Devil's Cloister Opened," the following singular account of a lad called the Fairy Boy of Leith, who, it seems, acted as a drummer to the elves, who weekly held rendezvous in the Calton Hill, near Edinburgh.
And then continues with what is claimed to be a verbatim quote from Pandeemonium, or the Devils Cloister Opened. By Richard Bovet, London 1684, p. 172. This, itself is presented as a testimony written by George Burton.
About fifteen years since, having business that detained me for some time at Leith, which is near Edinburgh, in the kingdom of Scotland, I often met some of my acquaintance at a certain house there, where we used to drink a glass of wine for our refection; the woman which kept the house was of honest reputation among the neighbours, which made me give the more attention to what she told me one day about a fairy boy, (as they called him,) who lived about that town. She had given me so strange an account of him, that I desired her I might see him the first opportunity, which she promised; and not long after, passing that way, she told me there was the fairy boy, but a little before I came by ; and, casting her eye into the street, said, Look you, sir, yonder he is at play with those other boys; and designing him to me, I went, and, by smooth words, and a piece of money, got him to come into the house with me; where, in the presence of divers people, I demanded of him several astrological questions, which he answered with great subtilty ; and, through all his discourse, carried it with a cunning much above his years, which seemed not to exceed ten or eleven.
He seemed to make a motion like drumming upon the table with his fingers, upon which I asked him, Whether he could beat a drum ? To which he replied, Yes, sir, as well as any man in Scotland; for every Thursday night I beat all points to a sort of people that used to meet under yonder hill, (pointing to the great hill between Edenborough and Leith.) How, boy ? quoth I, What company have you there ? There are, sir, (said he,) a great company both of men and women, and they are entertained with many sorts of musick, besides my drum ; they have, besides, plenty of variety of meats and wine, and many times we are carried into France or Holland in a night, and return again, and whilst we are there, we enjoy all the pleasures the country doth afford. I demanded of him how they got under that hill ? To which he replied, that there was a great pair of gates that opened to them, though they were invisible to others ; and that within there were brave large rooms, as well accommodated as most in Scotland.—I then asked him, how I should know what he said to be true ? Upon which he told me he would read my fortune, saying, I should have two wives, and that he saw the forms of them sitting on my shoulders ; that both would be very handsome women. As he was thus speaking, a woman of the neighbourhood coming into the room, demanded of him, What her fortune should be ? He told her that she had two bastards before she was married, which put her in such a rage, that she desired not to hear the rest.
The woman of the house told me that all the people in Scotland could not keep him from the rendezvous on Thursday night; upon which, by promising him some more money, I got a promise of him to meet me at the same place, in the afternoon, the Thursday following, and so dismist him at that time. The boy came again, at the place and time appointed, and I had prevailed with some friends to continue with me (if possible) to prevent his moving that night. He was placed between us, and answered many questions, until, about eleven of the clock, he was got away unperceived by the company; but I, suddenly missing him, hasted to the door, and took hold of him, and so returned him into the same room ; we all watched him, and, of a sudden, he was again got out of doors ; I followed him close, and he made a noise in the street, as if he had been set upon ; but from that time I could never see him. George Burton.

Further information on the story can be found in this article.

Those interested in the Scottish fairy tradition can read the section from Scott's book here on Google Books.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophical influence in Edinburgh

On my travels around Edinburgh I keep seeing references to Rudolf Steiner. I did wonder if this was just the result of studying Steiner at university making me more adept at spotting Anthroposophical references, but after a bit of investigation there does seem to be a thriving interest in Steiner in south central Edinburgh.

My own awareness of Steiner began when my dad started working as a volunteer physiotherapist at Camphill Blair Drummond. This led to me helping out with some musical activities their including a memorable performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with a choir, and part of the orchestra, formed from people with learning difficulties who were part of the community there. This gave me a bit of an insight into some of the values behind Steiner education especially that each individual has a perfectly formed spirit regardless of external disabilities which is the reverse of the protestant Christian idea of original sin. I have always been impressed by the kindness and love of the Camphill people and the way in which they accepted me into their community as a visitor as if I was simply meant to be there at that time. Its a very special place.

I went on to study some aspects of Steiner as part of my Divinity degree. Not sure how I managed to squeeze that in, but I can remember trawling through the stack rooms at New College for dusty copies of original journals edited or written by Steiner.

Here are a list of organisations, web sites and establishments associated with Steiner education or Anthroposophy in the Edinburgh area. The Steiner influence is quite widespread. I thought I would publish it here in case anyone else goes looking for the same information.
Another list of Steiner related organisations in this area can be found here.

Note: This is my 200th article in this blog.

Update 20th August 2013
The Edinburgh group of the Anthroposophical Society has changed its name to "Anthroposophy in Edinburgh".

The Anthroposophical Library has moved from the Columcille Centre to the Christian Community.

Compatibility of Android tablet PC's with Google Docs

Potential issue for early adopters of Android tablets. Google Docs has recently become editable, rather than read only, from mobile devices. My old G1 phone can only run Android version 1.6 so the editing functions are not available. The error message takes you to a Google help page which says that you need version 2.2 (Froyo) or above to use these features. There is a cryptic mention of some functions possibly working on earlier versions.

At the same time I have been looking at Android tablets, but they all seem to be running 2.1 with no information on upgrading. So has anyone successfully used the new Google Docs from an Android device running 2.1?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The environmental impact of gathered churches

Yesterday I was thinking about people who travel long distances to church on a Sunday rather than attending one local to them and the impact that this must have on the environment. I have looked at two hypothetical churches and tried to calculate the carbon impact of their members travelling to church. Its not a scientific study, but it makes fairly shocking reading. Maybe I have got my sums wrong. Would anybody like to comment?

Church 1
An inner city church with 300 attendees at one service per Sunday.
The attendees live, on average, 2 miles from the church building (a 4 mile round trip).
Half of them walk to church or use public transport.
The other 150 members drive in using their Ford Focus 1.6i (petrol) cars with an average of three people in each car.
Each member attends 50 services per year.

Annual impact:

  • Number of cars used: 50
  • Total number of miles travelled per car: 200
  • Total number of miles for all cars: 10,000
  • Total cost of fuel (@£1.17 per litre £5.32 per gallon): £1,260
  • Total carbon (Co2) emissions: 2.52 Tons

Church 2
A large city “mega” church with 1000 attendees at one service per Sunday.
400 of these are students living in the city who use public transport or walk to church.
The remaining 600 attendees live an average of 5 miles from the church, 150 of them use public transport, the remaining 450 drive in using their Ford Focus 1.6i (petrol) cars with an average of three people in each car.
Each member attends 50 services per year.

Annual impact:

  • Number of cars used: 150
  • Total number of miles travelled per car, per year: 1000
  • Total number of miles for all cars: 75,000
  • Total cost of fuel (@£1.17 per litre £5.32 per gallon): £9,454
  • Total carbon (Co2) emissions: 18.9 Tons

It should be noted that these are conservative estimates. Many gathered churches have more than one service on a Sunday and members may also attend mid week meetings. It excludes the carbon footprint of the public transport used to get the other members to church and the energy used to manufacture replacement parts for the cars (tyres for example).

What this amount of carbon looks like

This is what a metric ton of CO2 looks like

There are considerable doubts about the practicalities of carbon offsetting by tree planting  but setting this aside we can still use trees as a rough guide to picture the physical effects of all those emissions. A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 21 kg/year [1] therefore Church 1 would need to plant 120 trees, allow them to reach maturity and keep them alive in order to neutralise the emission effects of their members driving to church. Church 2 would need to plant 900 trees to do the same. 

Gathered churches have a considerable environmental impact compared to local churches, but people are still willing to spend large amounts of money travelling to church. This is a consumer choice and its difficult to see how people can be persuaded to think more locally.


Ford Focus technical specification:
Ford Focus 1.6i Duratec petrol – Manual transmission
CO2 emissions: 157g/km (252g/m)
Fuel efficiency (combined cycle): 42.2 mpg

[1]McAliney, Mike. Arguments for Land Conservation: Documentation and Information Sources for Land Resources Protection, Trust for Public Land, Sacramento, CA, December, 1993

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some personal news - my new job

I have been appointed as manager of Eco-Congregation Scotland, an ecumenical charity which offers a programme to help congregations understand environmental issues and make appropriate practical and spiritual responses. The organisation has existed for ten years, but has only become a charity this year. My role will be to develop the organisation over the next sixteen months (initially) and insures it meets its financial and climate change targets.

This will draw on my experience of management in the voluntary sector (which goes back as far as my first appointment with the RNIB way back 1989) and as a senior manager in the private sector. It will also make some use of my theological training. Its actually the second environmental charity I have worked for although the last one was more involved in conservation and wildlife habitat management.

I will be based at the Church of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh so I will finally have to buy a  monthly bus ticket. There will also be quite a lot of travelling involved.

Do fundamentalist Christians believe that man is mechanistic by nature?

You can read the full article here:

Christian Fundamentalism’s Atheistic View of Man « Blog on the Way

I am struck by these words, which I recognise from my own time in fundamentalist churches where people tend to be treated mechanistically, the opposite of what the church claims to believe:

The following ideas are commonly found in Christian Fundamentalism:

That a person is saved by repeating a prayer to Jesus Christ to be saved.
That a Christian advances in spiritual maturity and holiness by making decisions: to be baptized, to give his or her life to the Lord, to “surrender” this and that to God.
That by following certain definite formulas, such as daily Bible reading and prayer (devotions) a person will live a more spiritual and more holy life than one who does not follow this formula.
That wearing certain apparel evokes certain (wicked) behaviors from the person wearing the apparel.
That people fall into reciprocal roles, and correct behaviors performed in your role will evoke correct behavior in the other person in his or her role. For example, if a wife is submissive and sweet enough, she will cause her husband to love her.

The only way to reduce man to a complex mechanism is to deform him.
All of these premises rely on a belief that man is mechanistic by nature. This view of man has its roots in atheism, a belief that man is no more than a sophisticated animal, prompted and guided by drives. According to this point of view, man is programmable, trainable as an animal, for man will follow cues that give him what he wants: rewards.

There is a lot of resonance here with my own writing. See my previous post "why did the disciples follow Jesus?" which points out that there was no obvious reward, salvation or otherwise, in store for the disciples when they committed to following Jesus. Indeed following indicates the idea of a journey. This is another of the themes of my writing: faith is not a destination, but a journey.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Post: Jeff on "What is Faith?"

A reader called Jeff has sent in a lengthy response to my article entitled What is Faith? which was too long to fit in the comment form. With his permission I am publishing it here and linking back to it from the original article.

This is Jeff's response:

I could title this comment “in defense of faith,” but in reality it is defense of my Faith.  What is worse is that I’ve mostly written it to or for myself,  as the spectrum of how people came to believe (in any religion) is too diverse to assume that my own experience will speak to anyone else…but since I can’t rule it out I’ll subject you to it anyway :-).  In my experience, I feel that many people have the type 2 Faith you described, and then rely on type 1 to help them "prop" it up.  Unfortunately, I think this is why creationism and some other silly things (e.g. search for Noah's ark) have been such big hits for some people.  I think we have an innate desire to believe in something greater than ourselves(whatever it is), and at some point we better come up with some reasons to support it.  Come to think of it, my own faith was largely in your second category and basically stayed there until I began college.  During those years I confronted the fact that at least some of my faith was built on piles of rubble (creationism, et. al.), and it all came crashing down.  There's the rub, when one dispossesses a part of one's worldview, then one has to figure out what others parts are up for plunder.

That is when I switched to your first definition.  I didn't require proof, but if I was to maintain a (Christian) Faith, it at least had to be reasonable (at least to me), and what I had before certainly wasn’t that.  It took some time to sort things out, and for awhile I wasn’t sure which way it would go.  Honestly, to really sort out the various debates one has to be better versed in theology, etc., than I am.  From what I can tell, these arguments ultimately reach a point of minutiae, e.g., was the Greek word really intended to be this or that because one letter may have been transcribed improperly from one version to the next, etc., where one wonders what one was debating in the first place (and why).  It’s not that these aren’t important, but they can sometimes take on a whole other entity which loses relevance from the place in which the question started.  Obviously, I’m biased as to where it all ends up.  I presume you’ve already dealt with a lot of this, but nonetheless I’ll refer to the following in case you haven’t seen it, which I’ve found helpful from time to time:

see Wittgenstein's net: http://www.christianthinktank.com/oxymore.html

As I’ve said, even though I am by and large a skeptic, I’m biased as to where the argument ends.  I’ve already acknowledged that I’m not an expert with such matters, so keeping that in mind I generally have three problems with the “anti-Christian” movement.  First, as far as I can tell, it is a bit too common to start with a presupposition of naturalism.  It is presumed that the supernatural has not occurred, so that which has the guise of the supernatural must be explained, a priori, as something else.  We may as well get to the crux of the matter, I’m generally speaking of the historical death and Resurrection of Jesus, for if either is explained away then Christianity is a lie, which, as you know, the Apostle Paul acknowledged.  However, this presupposition is a dead end, for if one cannot allow for the possibility of the supernatural, then there isn’t really anything to debate.  One can still argue that Jesus never actually died, or that a pack of wolves made off with His body, but one must also allow for a supernatural explanation as also being a possible cause for the events as described in the Gospels.  Then, once those initial debates are hashed and rehashed (with both sides thinking they’ve won), one moves on to the veracity of the documents themselves (where the real minutiae debates begin).  At the end of the debate, it seems possible for rationale, intelligent, experts in the field to maintain or disdain belief, both are possible.

My second problem is actually related to a problem I have with creationism.  When a creation “expert” talks about creation for too long, one starts hearing about how there was water in the heavens and in the earth that came spilling out, blah blah blah, and a whole list of other things in an attempt to harmonize the story with the real world in which we live, and by the time it is finished I find myself thinking, “whoa, did I just wake up from some strange dream?”  When it comes to the historical Jesus, I see a similar development occurring in the camp that is arguing against its historicity as presented in the Bible.  A whole list of circumstances and happenings that could have happened to ensure that Jesus either did not die in the first place, or did not rise from death, etc..  Some are clever, no doubt, but ultimately, giving a list of possible circumstances that change the face of the story to harmonize it with their desired version of the events doesn’t hold a lot of water for me, and is a little too close to what creationists have to do for their story.  In the end, we’re still left with a very unflattering portrayal of 11 men who after the reported resurrection of Jesus started an incredible transformation that spread around the world.  It hasn’t always been neat and pretty, but it happened and it started with them.  To enlist a whole series of extra biblical events which explain the events described in the Gospel while asserting that the way it is described is the wrong version (which still led to their transformation) of those events seems a bit incredulous, at least in my opinion.

Lastly, having read and listened to enough of these debates, I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this group of Christian “debunkers” as a happy lot (which, granted, doesn’t necessarily make their arguments false).  In general, it appears to me that they have a chip on their shoulder.  They really want to prove that Christianity is a false religion, and the tone of contempt is fairly apparent (I do understand the tone, some times I take it on myself with regards to my response to creationism--I'd like to think it is righteous anger, but I doubt it).  It is hard to say how that plays out in the rest of their lives, but it seems to me that trying to remove the source of Hope for millions of people carries a high price.  I can see being angry at Christians for a few things (I am, and I am one), but this is a very deep resentment that causes me to question their ultimate objectivity on the matter, and I say that knowing they would accuse me of the same thing but for the opposite reason.  So be it.

One can go back and forth with the debates ad nauseam, I believe, so for now let’s forget that and just call it a draw whether it is or not.  Let’s say that both sides of the debate knock their heads together and both sides fall back with only minor concussions.  The death and Resurrection can neither be proven or disproven as being historically accurate as a supernatural event, and the words of the Gospels and New Testament, although all bearing witness to the same thing, cannot be proven or disproven as factually accurate or inaccurate (collectively speaking).  

Before I go on, if you have time please take a moment to read this blog by Chris Tweitmann (a fantastic Lutheran Pastor of a Church in Huntington Beach, CA—as an aside, I do not attend this Church (as it is a couple of states away)).  I believe you may find it insightful:


So now what?  It is true that there are many excellent scholars out there who know the material who would  not identify themselves as Christian.  On the same note, there are also brilliant scholars who are experts in the Biblical material and history who are strong believers.  I studied (for one quarter) under a professor who was one of the translators for the NIV Bible (portions of the New Testament); possessed a vocabulary that, if his aim was to confuse the student, could deliver the entire lecture in multi-syllable words that most of us had never heard (and not just Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic); was fully aware of the “historical problems” of the New Testament, etc.; however, he was still confident in the message of the Gospel to the point that he would street evangelize.  Wrongly or rightly, I have not had a lot of respect for most of the street evangelism that I’ve encountered.  However, I would have sat on a wet and slimy sidewalk to hear him.  This is just one small example, but it serves to illustrate that my own faith is also built on the faith and experiences of others who have gone before me or are with me now.  There are too many people I know and respect who have had experiences that have humbled and inspired them (and myself) to follow Jesus, and I would be in error if I were to discount them all as a strange psychological (and in some cases unexplainable) phenomena and reject them as having no merit (note, I would be wrong to do so for believers in other religions who have had similar revelations).  Quite frankly, I have had some of my own experiences.  In fact, I basically challenged God to reveal himself to me.  Different words, but same idea, at least it was a humble prayer, and in retrospect it was a stupid one, but nonetheless God confirmed He was listening because within 10 seconds there was a very clear response.  It was with regards to a normal natural phenomena, and entirely explainable as such, but the timing was impeccable.  Moreover, it wasn’t enough.  I still nearly rejected it all even after my own experiences had previously “confirmed” that there was a loving God, and this has helped me understand how the disciples could appear so dense in their seeming unwillingness to accept Jesus for who He was and is.  However, the sum of the community of Faith in which I live has been critical to my own.  Below is a link to another example of how others have experienced come to faith...in this case it is a bit disturbing.  It is a true story from our current interim Senior pastor about how his father came to Faith, and it is worth hearing (it’s a Presbyterian Church, but you’ll be relieved to know that he was never a lawyer--though he was a 2nd grade school teacher at one point, for whatever that is worth).  I've learned that Pastor Robert Bayley is wise beyond his years (which says a lot considering he's in his 60's-70's).  As an aside, I had to ask for help locating this file as I didn't remember the title, and Robert, knowing only a few details, asked that the person on the "receiving end" know that they can email him at any time regarding this story--you can find his email through the website below, or I can send it to you if you want.
look for: 06-20-10 (Rev. Robert Bayley) When Water is Stronger Than Stone

Lastly, through it all, this brings me to a third definition of faith that I’ve learned defines my own better.  In fact, though I say this with caution since I may be wrong, it may be that though your other two definitions are valid, they are incomplete and perhaps find their completion only when integrated with this 3rd definition.  This faith is of the sort that occurs in relationships, perhaps most closely related to the sort that occurs between spouses.  In my own case, my wife and I have made a commitment to be faithful to each other.  Often it isn’t easy, sometimes I don’t even want to bother with it (and more often she probably feels the same, for very good reason, I might add), and yet, in the end, the sum of our marriage is that we are faithful to each other.  Our mutual trust is our foundation that makes our marriage strong.  I have come to learn that this, more than the other two definitions, is the best definition of faith as it relates between God and myself.  What has surprised me, though it shouldn’t, is that in this relationship I am a (figurative) prostitute of the worst kind, I consistently violate my covenant to God not out of forced desperation, but for worldly desire.   And yet, for reasons I've read but still don't fully comprehend, He has remained Faithful to me.  For all the limits of my faith, His has no end.

I would suggest to you that God may not show his existence to you, at least not in the way you are hoping for.  If you’re as foolish as I am, then even if he does you will still find reason to turn question it.  I just don’t think it is supposed to be that easy.  If it were easy, our free will would take a thrashing, which God seems to have taken great ends to preserve, if one believe in God.  I would suggest that this 3rd type, that God is already there Faithfully waiting, may be more accurate.  I do not know if you will find it, and if you look I don’t even know if it will be easy to find.  You have had faith once, and so I don’t know what challenges stand in the way of finding it again, maybe you don’t want to find it?  I could go on and on…in fact, I already have (sorry).  In all honesty, I really want to say that if God wants you badly enough, he’ll find you.  However, I can’t say that.  I do believe He wants you badly enough, He must everybody or there is no God, but the reality is you might not find faith again.  In a world as complex as ours, I dare not boil faith down to a neat little package that you ought to fit into, because I would be wrong.

This is what I know, and I hope that it will not be completely blasphemous.  Let’s say there is a God, but pretend he hadn’t revealed himself yet and I had a chance to imagine what God would be like before His arrival.  Then pretend he showed up as the Jesus described in the Gospels, each book a little different (or even a lot different), but each a portrait of Jesus written for a specific audience and each ultimately consistent in proclaiming the same thing, which is what we have today.  Does this portrait look like what I would have predicted God to be?  My answer is an emphatic “no.”  However, there is one thing I need to take into account.  If I didn’t know anything about God, then the only other example I have regarding what to expect about God comes from nature. Sure, I have an imagination, but I’m specifically bound by human evolution and the various laws of nature that I have been subject to, so my creative initiative may have some limits when trying to contemplate an all powerful God.  Therefore, if God is God, what better way to reveal Himself then making His identity different from that which we already know all too well, in particular, it is that which is infused into almost every part of our being, pride (which, I think, can be seen as a natural outcome of “survival of the fittest”—worthy of more discussion, but I’ll leave it at that).  Humility, sacrifice forgiveness, redemption, unconditional love, etc., are hinted at starting from the early writings of humanity (I presume), and it’s not like these were all completely novel ideas until Jesus showed up, but there is nobody defined by “all of the above” who claimed to be God  (that I’m aware of) outside of Jesus.  We are told that He was born in the humblest of circumstances, dodged an attempt to be made king, was willingly and ruthlessly murdered for no legitimate crime of his own, and before it was over He forgave everybody for it.  After a complete and thorough rejection, He then validated His purpose and Kingdom through the Resurrection, which still has no good explanation today except for being what it is (in my opinion).  I’m bound by the evolution of my humanity, so only in retrospect do I even begin to understand that Jesus is counter to everything that evolution would have predicted that God might look like.  The attributes God uses to define ultimate power (humility, sacrifice, etc.) are not the attributes I would have chosen for God—certainly not what the Israelites were looking for.   Only looking beyond this world do I understand that “to pick up my cross and follow” and “to lose my life to find it” are completely logical statements when attributed to a God (wanting to be in relationship with us) who is trying to capture our attention by setting Himself apart from the normal understanding of how we think life is supposed to work.  Who knew that God would end up being the Suffering Servant (and that He would call us to be the same)?  If there is a God, is there a better way for “Him” to make Himself known to humanity then to show us that He is not bound by the same nature that we are (and that ultimately we are not or will not be bound by it either); that He exists outside of our own physical reality, but yet He can reach into it and give us a quick glimpse of who He is and for what we are intended while preserving the physical universe and our free will?

I don’t think I would use this argument to convert anybody to Christianity—the argument for theism from evolution…yeah, right.  I’m sure it is not sound enough to stand muster against even an amateur philosophical whipping.  Nonetheless, at least for me, it helps explain why the Gospel is the Good news.  I am enthralled by the world in which we live, but at the end of the day I’m not so thrilled by being bound to one of the most exquisite if not brutal laws of nature, natural selection, whose primary mechanism is defined by death.  I’m not too excited with humanity and how we, as a species, seem hell bent on self extermination and taking the rest of the world with us (I also wouldn’t have predicted that evolution would cause the most advanced species to make the most stupid blunders).  And I’m not exactly thrilled with myself, either.  I possess a constant desire for things that ultimately take away from what I would view as a purposeful life for myself (and therefore I risk them becoming my purpose).  I sit silent and stand still while countless millions around the world suffer needlessly at the hands of nature or the hands of each other.  I am sickened by the catastophic human condition, and yet I’ve done the equivalent of a finger twitch to try and stop it.  My awareness and apparent concern betray my culpability, so I am the worst of the lot.  Yet, in spite of this, I have been given a glimpse of the way to overcome the natural law and also the only real way that I can see which will lead to peace, mutual respect, understanding, unconditional love and forgiveness between peoples and nations.  Obviously, many of us who follow Jesus aren’t very good at following His lead, because as far as I can tell this world has a long way to go.  However, I know I don’t walk alone, I know I am forgiven, and tomorrow I can wake up and try again and keep doing so until the day I go Home, and in that I have faith.

How I ended up with an LTh degree

My degree has a tendency to come back and haunt me from time to time. On the one hand some employers in the voluntary sector make the assumption that I must be very religious and can be put off short listing me for jobs. On the other hand Christian organisations note my lack of religion and a degree from Edinburgh University and the alarm bells start ringing.

As far as I know the Edinburgh LTh no longer exists and has been replaced by the BTh. When I started at New College in 1990 I got onto the BD course using my previous HND as the entry qualification with the intention of completing a four year BD. I had one years funding which I managed to extend to two and for the third year I paid my own way before realising it was going to be impossible to complete the fourth.

As I did not have an existing undergraduate degree I could not graduate with a BD after three years so I converted all my course grades to allow me to leave with the LTh. The difference was that LTh was weighted slightly more in favour of course work than exams and required slightly fewer courses to be completed. I think LTh was originally designed for late entrants to ministry in the Church of Scotland who came from non academic backgrounds. Hence the weighting towards course work. This is a moot point though as my marks were generally over the limit required to gain exemption from exams on the BD course anyway, and I had completed all the required divinity courses for a four year BD by the time I got to the end of third year (partly by cramming Greek by taking private lessons over one of the summers with one of the translators of the New English Bible). My fourth year at Edinburgh would have been spent in other faculties, probably music which would have been great fun, but would not have added to my theological training.

Sometimes I find it annoying that I don't have a BD, but its quite a rare qualification and quaint in its own special way.

Solution to the “Download of application unsuccessful” error message on Google G1 Android Phone

I have had a fault on my Google G1 Android phone for the past month where app updates and attempts to install new applications give the error message “Download of application unsuccessful”.

My initial thoughts were that the internal memory must be full, but this turned out to not be the case. On further investigation it appears that the problem relates to the Android Market application itself. The most recent update appears to not work on Android 1.6 on the G1.

To solve this problem I reverted to a previous version of the Android Market app. To do this follow these instructions:

  1. Click on menu button
  2. Click on settings.
  3. Scroll down to Applications and click on it.
  4. Select Manage Applications
  5. You will see a long list of installed apps. 
  6. Scroll down to Market and click on it
  7. Click on Uninstall Updates
  8. The Market app updates will be uninstalled
  9. Exit back to the home page
  10. Go to Android Market and it will appear like a fresh install and you will be asked to agree to the Market terms and conditions.

You should now be able to install new apps. It can take a while for the phone to synchronise all the apps to their update trees so you might find you get a lot of update notifications over the next few hours as the system detects them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What is faith?

Over the past year I have been on a journey of discovery to try and determine what faith (if any) I had lost. At the very beginning of this journey I realised that the first step was defining what faith actually is. There seems to be two possible definitions of faith:

  1. Belief or trust in something without proof (i.e. assenting to agree with something and go along with it).
  2. Knowing spiritually that something is absolutely true in the way that we know that grass is green and the sky blue.

My faith was mainly of type 2. Extremely sure and based on an apparent inward knowledge of truth. Many Christians have a faith of type 1 based on accepting a forensic (legal) argument which seeks to prove that the bible and the gospel message are true. This is one reason why so many Presbyterian ministers had law degrees as first degrees. Protestantism was based on forensic argument and the minister wore legal dress in the pulpit.

My current position is one of honesty. I decided to maintain a position of non-belief until sufficient evidence for the existence of God is revealed. This means that I have been looking for a type 2 faith, when most people do not have this. Interesting.

As an aside to this I have asked a number of people how they would define faith. Most recently via Twitter with Peter Anderson who is the Pastor of Destiny Church in Edinburgh (a charismatic church, descended sideways from the restoration churches founded by Bryn Jones). His Twitter reply:
I c belief as knowing truth "...the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen" (Heb.11:1)
So very much in line with type 1. The difficulty with a type 1 faith is that although it may give you a feeling of assurance about the existential things of life like death, meaning and purpose its uncertainty means that it does not help with everyday situations in the way that it is suggested to by some of the people promoting it. Even the promotion of faith is a bit of an oxymoron. Is it possible to promote something which requires at its centre a lack of evidence? Because faith with evidence stops being faith and becomes knowledge. Thanks to Peter for replying. Communication is always a good thing. I may have to repeat the question to others on twitter.

So where does this leave my journey? Well, I am always open to suggestions, but I am very wary of anything which seeks to supplant reason; makes promises of extreme improvements in quality of life or health or sells itself by saying that life is meaningless without God. I suspect that means I am never going to be pew fodder for an evangelical church.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interesting video about the Mormon scriptures

Its an hour long, but worth a watch. This video is about the Book of Abraham which is one of the texts used by Mormons as scripture alongside the Book of Mormon. Here is the link to it on Google Video:

The Lost Book of Abraham

I have a passing interest having a Mormon ancestor (from the Isle of Man who emigrated to the USA and fought in the Mormon war) and living down the road from the Scottish headquarters of the LDS church.

Some changes to my blog

I have decided to make some improvements to the comment system used by this blog. The previous commenting restrictions were put in place after a spate of automated comments aimed at "link spamming". Now that Blogger (Google) have put in place a comment spam filter I have been able to free things up slightly whilst not having to change to an external comment service (and lose all the existing comments).

Here are a summary of the changes:
  • You no longer need a Google account to leave a comment, but there is a message encouraging you to leave a name/URL so people can tell your comments from other people's. Sadly there is no way to force this in the blogger comments system currently.
  • I have removed moderation. All new comments will be instantly posted to the blog.
  • I have removed the captcha barrier for posting comments (but may reintroduce it if spam becomes a problem).
  • I have modified the "x comments" link that appears on each post so it encourages people to leave a comment.

Lets see how it goes. My guess is that I will need to re-enable captcha at some point, but Blogger's anti spam system may be good enough to not require that.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Midlothian Council to cut instrumental music teaching

According to this article from the Edinburgh Evening News,  Midlothian Council are considering further cuts to their music services:
The proposals come against a backdrop of cuts in council's Instrumental Music Services – a bank of full and part-time music tutors – across the Lothians, which will in many cases mean the end of one-to-one lessons.
Part of the problem is that they know that brass bands and other community groups, to some extent, will pick up the slack including putting kids through exams. What they don't recognise is the benefit of music to discipline; self expression during the difficult teenage years and civic responsibility (taking part in civic events like remembrance Sunday).

I am old enough to remember Mrs Thatcher asking why the government was paying to train buskers for London Underground. Mrs Thatch could not see the connection between music tuition in schools and all the operas and concert she enjoyed going to. Just as your average council tax payer does not recognise the connection between the music they listen to on the radio and instrumental instruction.

We are running a serious risk of the joy of being able to play an instrument being restricted to the better off. Coincidentally Ian Rankin (near neighbour of mine and music fan) posted this to his twitter feed yesterday:

"October 1990, less than 1% of UK acts in top 40 were privately educated. October 2010 the figure was around 60%. (The Word)"

To add insult to injury I met a sheet music dealer this morning who said that their business is booming with trade from Edinburgh's private schools. I certainly see lots of kids carrying instruments on the bus wearing the uniforms of the merchants Company schools or the Edinburgh Academy. Rarely brass instruments though and never a euphonium or a tenor horn. That, of course, is an Edinburgh thing and why there has been no band in Edinburgh for nearly 30 years (excluding the recent University band).

So where does this leave us? Fragmentary group tuition, often run by volunteers, with music performance being marginalised in society. At the same time as singing is apparently getting very popular (x-factor etc being part of the reason).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Churches with creationism in their statement of faith or constitution.

With the increasing emphasis on young earth creationism being central to sound, biblical Christianity I am surprised that I have not seen it adopted into the statement of faith of any of the local churches which promote it.

Having had a quick scout round the internet I suspect it will not be long before this happens as there are already a number of churches and Christian organisations in the USA which do have creationism written into their statements of faith. Presumably these organisations only accept people into membership who also hold those beliefs.

Here are some examples and the precise wording they are using:

http://www.cruxmagazine.tv/what-we-believe.php (possibly UK based)

“We teach that man was directly and immediately created by God in His image and likeness.”


“We affirm our belief that man was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred not only physical death but also that spiritual death which is separation from God, and that all human beings are born with a sinful nature and that those who reach moral responsibility become sinners in thought, word, and deed.  (By this statement we affirm that man was created by a direct act of God in His image, not from previously existing creatures, and that all of mankind sinned in Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race.)”

Other variations include:
“Man was directly and immediately created by God on the sixth day of creation, with appearance of age, in His image and likeness. “

Do a quick google search to see for yourself what might be coming to a church near you.:


This is further evidence of a narrowing of evangelical Christianity.