Liberton Northfield – Re-advertisement

Dear all,

I would be grateful for your help in making known this advert and Parish Profile. Liberton Northfield is readvertising its vacancy, and, due to our family circumstances, in the new year I am handing over the duties of Interim Moderator to Jim Dewar, whose name appears on the new material.


Could ministerial friends please share this on your timeline to spread the words as far as possible.


Many thanks,



Advert November 2014v02

Liberton Northfield Parish Profile_REV G

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Christmas Newsletter 2014






We wish all our friends and family a very Happy Christmas!

PDF version here: 2014 xmas letter

2014 xmas letter1


2014 xmas letter2



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Liberton Northfield – vacancy

Dear all,
I’m Interim Moderator at Liberton Northfield Parish Church in Edinburgh following the retirement of the previous minister on 31st Dec. Attached is our Parish Profile and IMG_0269the terms of RT with Stats for Mission I’d be grateful if you would share this with people you think might be interested in the vacancy. I’m happy to chat . We are open for applications and recommendations with the aim of getting to the stage of Sole Nominee in June if possible.
Thanks and blessings,

Liberton Northfield Parish Profile_REV D

LN Stats for Mission – 21 Jan 14


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Come and see; go and tell

The Robin Chapel – 19 January 2014, 4pm
Epiphany 3: Is 49:1-67; John 1:29-42
‘Come and See; Go and Tell.’

[This is a short message delivered at the Robin Chapel in Edinburgh on Sunday 19 January 2014.]

In one of my more profane moments while reflecting for this message today I thought of the season of Epiphany as a kind of theological and spiritual ‘dance of the seven veils’ – or however many weeks Epiphany lasts for. Each week more of Jesus is revealed to us as we cover many of the themes and titles that explain who he is. And of course, his enfleshment, or incarnation as we call it, is a significant part of that, but before our imagination runs away with us, it is not the rest of his body that is being revealed in Epiphany, but his identity. So what can we learn of Jesus from the two passages read to us from Isaiah and John?

The beginning of Isaiah 49 is one of four so-called ‘Servant Songs’ of Isaiah – prophetic poetry composed to unpack the nature and mission of the ‘Servant of the Lord,’ including the fact that this Servant will be full of the Spirit of wisdom and will not only restore the relationship between Israel and God, but will also be a light to the nations. Traditionally within Christian interpretation, while the Servant picture initially has a corporate identity, the whole people of God, the focus narrows until it is seen in an individual – Jesus. He is the Servant of the Lord par excellence. While Isaiah had no thought in his mind about Jesus, when early Christians, and Jewish Christians in particular, read his songs of the Servant they thought of Jesus. So, in Epiphany, Isaiah removes one of the veils that prevents our understanding and we see Jesus as one who came to serve the mission of God in the world, a mission that is worldwide, for Jew and Gentile alike.

The stories of the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of John, and his encounters with various people afterwards help us unpack some of what it means for Jesus to be the Servant of the Lord and what it means for us to follow in that servanthood. He is the one who, when baptized by John in the Jordan, is anointed by the Spirit for his ministry and will confer the Spirit on others. He is the one who, when effectively he was asked, ‘What are you about, Jesus,’ he said, ‘Come and see,’ so that those who were intrigued by him and by what John said about him, were not given a short course on right beliefs and religious practices, but they were apprenticed into the Kingdom of God way of living.

One of these new apprentices, Andrew, our own Patron saint, went off immediately and told his brother Simon Peter, ‘We have found the Messiah,’ which was a truly extraordinary thing for him to say after such a short encounter. It was Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus, that he too might be received into an apprenticeship.

There is much more to the Servanthood of Jesus that this, but it certainly includes this idea of making apprentices for the life of the Kingdom of God. As we follow in the life of the Master Carpenter, so we need to be people who will provoke the question, ‘You Jesus people, what are you really about?’ And in answer to that question, rather than point them to the Creeds, we can say, ‘Come and see.’ We, like Jesus before us, are to be about making apprentices for the Kingdom. And when those who come have encountered the life of Jesus through us, like Andrew, they are to go and tell, that others from across the globe may be apprenticed into that life as well.

Come and see; go and tell – two very different yet complementary aspects of the life of Jesus that are to be mirrored in us. They reflect a part of his mission for God that, given the passing of the generations, have also fallen to us that we too might become Servants of the Lord.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reading The Story, Living The Story

Below is a link to an article reporting some research into the effects of stories on us. If this research finding is confirmed then from a Christian point of view it would heighten the importance of the fact that so much of the Bible comes in narrative form. Reading The Story and engaging with the characters in the narrative will help us to live The Story. The ethical effects of this would be particularly powerful if we keep reading the stories of Jesus and become more Christlike.…and-your-brain.html


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Conversation Partnership – Scot McKnight

Below is a repost from Scot McKnight’s blog on what might make a good conversation, growing out of a book on 17th Century conversation groups. It is very thoughtful and apposite not only to personal encounters, but responding to blog posts and the like. Enjoy – and learn.

You can find the original at:



The question: What are the central characteristics of a genuine conversation in your opinion?

I want to draw your attention to a massive and brilliant study, but for most of us far too specialized to be a book to “blog” our way through. The book is Benedetta Craveri’s The Age of Conversation. Her book is a detailed analysis of 17th Century salons, directed mostly by women, designed not for professors and specialists but for a nobility that wanted to form a society where its values and interests could become the central focus. I contend that the term “conversation” can be understood by taking an interest in this movement. I see its descendants in high society England and major metropolises in the world (e.g., high society New York — think The New Yorker). One publisher comes to mind: Alfred A. Knopf.

The Age of Conversation, seen in the salons especially in France, found a group of people who had the following characteristics:

1. They were directed by women and showed an unusual degree of integration between the sexes.
2. They were concerned with the pleasure of conversation, of learning, of enjoying one another.
3. They were shaped by absolute equality between all participants.
4. They had an ideal: to “marry lightheartedness with depth, elegance with pleasure, and the search for truth with a tolerant respect for the opinions of others” (xiii).
5. They sealed themselves off from the power structures and politics of the day in order to form an ideal society.
6. They were shaped by a style: they carried on their lives with a notable style and a code of manners.
7. They secured an informal society that had some clear boundaries between themselves and others.
8. They were opposed from the left (Rousseau thought they were oppressive) and right (Pascal thought they were too worldly).
9. They privatized what was most important to life.

Now to the issue of “style”… Life was made in the salons of France into “the most elegant of games” (340) that was shaped by loving one’s partner and fellow salon members as they ought to be loved. Tolerance and mutual respect shaped the conversation completely; honoring the integrity and value of the other shaped the the conversation as well. These conversations became the educational force for those so involved.

Central to the task was aim of pleasing others and to do this they developed several strategies, and I shall try to use the French words with some brief translation:

Politesse: courtesy.
Esprit: mental, spiritual, and social sense and joy.
Galanterie: chivalry, galantry.
Complaisance: an obligation to the other, kindness, amiability.
Enjouement: cheerfulness.
Flatterie: without being overdone, one was to complement the other.
Raillerie: playful teasing of one another.

There are dangers here, like snobbishness, and they are obvious for anyone to see. But what happened was that the French salons created an environment where conversation occurred, not to beat the daylights out of someone else, not to denounce the other, but to enjoy the pleasure of discussing pressing concerns of a given group. They learned to converse in order to learn from one another and make one another more educated.

Conversation like this, however, has its problems. As Craveri sums them up, “their exquisite courtesy was a means of domination, and their intellectual malleability was a mask for sterility and sophism” (356). In fact, at times such conversations refused to ask the hard question. “As on the battlefield where French officers took their hats off to the enemy, or in life’s crucial moments when notaries drink to the health of their expiring clients, so, in theological discussion, politesse had the upper hand, and Morellet would turn to his adversary and address him as ‘Monsieur and dear atheist’” (359).

In other words, and I hope you like this swiped line from Cynthia Ozik, the danger of conversation in this sense is tete-a-tete gone flagrante delicto.”

The fundamental obstacles to conversation among are two-fold: most conversations are blocked either by a right vs. wrong obstacle or by an information-only obstacle.

Let us say that a person wants to converse about world religions, about the presence of “silent Christians” in the Islamic world, about the issues surrounding eschatology in the New Testament, about how to “do church” in a postmodern context, about preaching in today’s world, about homosexuality, about the church and the poor, about the gospel and social justice, about marriage, about rearing children… any topic that matters and any topic about which a person has concerns and wonders what is the best way to think about. Bring into the mix a person who is young or a person who really has serious and good questions about traditions … and you create the only kind of conversation that really can a conversation. Something important, a couple of people, and a desire to learn from one another. But, often mutual exploration is not what happens. Why?

The first obstacle is the right vs. wrong risk. Orthodoxy is right; anything else or less than orthodoxy is wrong. With that looming behind every conversation, when a person raises a question there is immediately a worry if what the person is asking is orthodox or not; whether or not by participating in such a conversation a person will be seen as harboring doubts about orthodoxy; and whether associating with such persons calls into question one’s reputation. Quickly, in many cases, the conversation stops being conversation and becomes instead a quick lesson on what tradition teaches the Bible says and that if one strays from that one is questioning the Bible and, there you have it, the slippery slope worry comes to the surface.

When conversation is shaped like this — and this is what I want to contend — there is no conversation. Instead, it becomes didactic. Which leads me to the second issue.

The second obstacle is that conversations, instead of becoming explorations of one another’s minds on a given topic as each reflects on how each makes theological decisions, become information-exchange sessions. Whoever knows the most becomes the teacher; whoever knows the least becomes the student. That’s all. It’s about information exchange. It becomes catechesis instead of conversation.But the “art” of conversation can’t be learned in such a context when everything is dominated by right vs. wrong or when it becomes whoever knows the most becomes the teacher. This isn’t conversation; this is lecture or information exchange.

I do not deny the value of information, nor do I deny the importance of orthodoxy. But can we have conversations sometimes?

What are the marks of a good conversation?

First, a good conversation (and therefore a good conversationalist) requires a safe environment. By this I mean space — somewhere to feel comfortable; and I mean at least two people with listening skills; and I mean the ability to disagree if necessary but not denounce, condemn or berate.

Illustration: most of us think this blog is safe; when someone joins us at the table and starts denouncing someone we feel uncomfortable. The reason we feel uncomfortable when someone denounces another is because we assumed we were in a genuine conversation in a safe environment. We believed we were in a conversation not sitting in a pew listening to a visiting pulpiteer.

I’ve been blogging now 8 years — began about this time 8 years ago — and sometimes I wonder how long I can keep doing this but it is the commenters — our virtual community — that keeps me plugging along. So thanks.

Many have turned to the blog world because they are having difficulties finding a safe place. I can’t tell you the number of pastors who have written me privately and said “I can’t say this on your blog, but I want to converse with you about the post today” or about something else.

Second, a good conversation requires a good topic or a good question. This one is clear: what is a good topic for some is not for others. It is also clear that some topics are better than others. Some topics are off-limits for one person and on-limits for another. There is a social skill involved here: some people perceive immediately what is on-limits or off-limits; others don’t.

Third, a good conversation operates on the basis of frequently-unexpressed but nearly always assumed, shared assumptions. I find this to be a regular hang-up on the blog. Many of us operate with a set of assumptions — and it would be fun to bring to expression what these really are — but we don’t talk about them. When someone violates them, we raise our eyebrows or start to wiggle our fingers and maybe even break into a sweat. Perhaps it begins with the viability of the question we ask.

Fourth, a good conversation requires the spirit of exploration and experimentation. If I ask my good friend, Greg Clark, who happens to be a philosopher and therefore practiced in the art of conversation and one who finds it delightful to turn over each stone somehow, a question, I expect him to tell me what he is thinking on the subject and he will probably explore his mind and he’ll ask me what I think and then I’ll ask him back and it goes on and on.

The major problem here is when someone gets too dogmatic. If in conversing we want to explore something together, we can’t have someone say “here’s the answer, buffo, and there’s no other possiblities.” The shared assumption is that we don’t get too dogmatic and that we explore and think together.

Fifth, a good conversation desires wisdom. I have very little use for a conversation that goes nowhere unless a few of us are gathered just to chat over beer or coffee or about a football game. No, a good conversation with a good topic or question leads to mutual exploration so each of us can learn and grow in wisdom. As a Christian, we want the conversation to lead us into the wisdom of the way of Jesus.

Sixth, a good conversation stays within the parameter of the topic. One of the routine challenges of conversation is wandering. We begin with a good question — Did Jesus do miracles by the power of the Spirit or in his own power? Can libertarian economics exist in a world like ours? — that begins on the right track but then someone begins to talk, and wander aloud to another topic (a previous event in life) and then we’re talking about that event, which leads to another topic and we realize we are no longer on topic. This element of conversation requires either a conversation partner who keeps us in line or, better yet, we make a mutual commitment to stay in line.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Christmas – quietly subverting the culture by telling the Story

 OK, ‘quietly’ might not be the appropriate adverb describing the writing of this post, but in terms of its practical application then I think that’s probably the best way of doing it. Essentially, this is a critique of the way in which we, as Christians, celebrate Christmas, and have embraced unthinkingly (and often unknowingly) the consumerist, Santa-driven culture around us.

Take Christmas cards for instance: countless cards crisscross the country to people we see every day, or people we never see, and while we seem to attach great significance to the ‘Christmas card list,’ in actual fact the greetings often carry little depth of meaning. They cost us lots of money that could be better spent in a troubled world, while we could use other means (emails, Facebook) to tell our friends and family that we love them and are thinking of them at this special time of year.

2013 - PPC cardBut it’s mainly the kind of cards we send I have a grudge against. Ask yourself, ‘What’s Christmas about?’ For Christians, it’s about the birth of Jesus. Around us the world uses winter themes, Santa and elves, reindeer and presents to denude the festival of its core events. The tragedy is that we conspire with the world to help it succeed. I confess that, in times past, I have played my full role in that by sending cards of robins (please do not send me a card with a robin!) to convey my Christmas greetings. Now I send shepherds, wise men, the Holy Family – anything on the Nativity theme that will quietly say to those who receive it that this festival is about the incarnation of the Son of God in the person of the Christ-child.

And what about Christmas trees? Why do we have them in our homes? Are we following blindly a tradition of Prince Albert that we have adapted so that the glitter and tinsel we use simply fit in with the adverts in shops and on TV, detracting from the central message? Mea culpa! While we do buy a charity tree, we have decorated it too often with Santas and Snowmen rather than Stars, Sheep and gifts of the Wise men. I was told in early life about the fairy at the top of the tree, when I should have been told about an Angel. We need to turn our decorative trees (and why shouldn’t we have bright, cheerful trees to celebrate Christ’s birth?) into tools of story-telling. In fact, they are tools of story-telling whether we like it or not. We need to be careful which story they are telling.

Possibly the biggest twist in the Christmas story of our culture is where the coming of a beneficent Christian saint (Nicholas – Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve supplants the hope of the coming of his Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Yes, we still have ‘Santa sacks’ for fun, and, no, not many people over the age of 8 believe that Santa really comes to leave them presents. But with sleight of hand we have taken away the real hope of our world and exchanged it for a fairy story that will fall by the wayside in childhood.

I think that what I’m saying could be summed up in the difference I have noted between the two amazing buildings, St Peter’s in Rome and La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) in Barcelona. Look at St Peter’s and you will see the story of the Church and the Popes. Look at La Sagrada Familia and you will read the Story of Jesus.

2013 - PPC KnitivityAt Priestfield, in modest ways we are seeking to subvert the controlling Christmas story of our culture through events such as our Nativity Trail. In the shops of the Cameron Toll Centre, characters and animals of the Nativity can be found in a dozen or so stores, and children have a sheet to note where each one is – a sheet that tells them the Story of the birth of Jesus. We are also seeking to bless with (modest) Christmas gifts many of those who serve in our community. There are many simple ways in which we can subvert our culture by telling the real Story of Christmas which has a power all of its own.

So, this blog is both a kind of confession (I bear my full share of culpability) and the story of a conversion (I believe I now see things more clearly and want to change my behaviour). I am sharing my ‘testimony’ in the hope of persuading those who walk the Christian path with me that we need to subvert the world’s Christmas narrative by telling, re-telling and telling again the Story of the Nativity in everything we say and do to celebrate the coming of Christ.

Happy Christmas!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment