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  • First define your terms...

    Language is complicated and fluid, meanings of words change over time.  Meaning is determined in context, and contexts are not always that easy to define.  Back in the days when I was an engineer, many reports and conversations would begin with the call to 'define your terms'.  What do you mean by 'x' and is it the same thing that I mean by it?

    This morning I am mulling over some ideas for the sermon, and have become very aware of the contextual nature of so many of the words and concepts to which I might refer.  Not that this isn't always the case, but somehow it feels more so today, possibly because of some of what I am mulling, and my own, inevitable, interpretation of words and phrases which may, or may not, accord with those of others.

    I have some ideas for the sermon - not the ones I had when I began the series, it has to be admitted - but I am not yet sure how best to explore and express them.  Even so, words are the comparatively easy part - the real challenge is how I translate my words into deeds.

    A number of conversations in the last week or so have given me lots to contemplate (and I'm grateful for that) and part of the challenge lies, I think, in the definition of terms and neither projecting my aspirations into statements nor deluding myself that things are other than they are, or appear to others to be.

    So, whilst I don't really like not having any words written down yet, I am allowing the ideas to swirl around a while longer, trusting that what emerges might be whatever it is God would have me express.

  • Random Observations...

    Yesterday was more than a bit crazy.  Another experiment in ways to travel from Glasgow to Northants in a day to visit my Mum.  Not one I plan to repeat - it meant leaving home at 4 a.m. yesterday and not being back until 1 a.m. today.  It meant two taxis, one coach, four planned trains, one unplanned train, two tube rides and two flights (which was the real experiment).

    I flew with a budget price airline that, in the past anyway, has attracted a lot of negative publicity.  The service felt quite bargain basement, it has to be said, but it did exactly what it said on the tin.  Boarded on time, took off on time, landed a few minutes early either end.  Hassle free.  Well done Ryan Air (even if your recorded landing announcement complete with literally blowing your own trumpet is really annoying!)

    Arriving at St Pancras, and realising that due to a slip on my part, I had booked a train much later than intended, I approached the customer service staff and asked if I could please alter my ticket.  A surly reply came, "no".  But it has printed on it that I can, I replied.  Well you'll have to get a new ticket - the machine's over there.  Eventually I gave in , went to National Rail and was met by a friendly, helpful young woman who offered me alternatives - an upgrade at a ludicrous price and two (still dear but affordable) new tickets.

    Returning from Wellingborough, the train stopped at Bedford and a series of announcements, every couple of minutes informed us that there was "an incident" at Harpenden, which morphed into "a fatality" and then "a person struck by a train" before the one announcing the service was now cancelled and we could get a train in 40 minutes time to begin a complex alternative route to get to London (Euston rather than St Pancras)... a quick check online and that would have taken around 3 hours and I'd have missed my flight.  So I spoke to customer services again.  Really helpful this time.  No information available but recommending that I stayed put as they were fairly sure something would be sorted sooner than the suggested route.  And it was.  And I made in plenty of time for my flight (Standsted is pretty quiet in the evenings, even when going through security meant being behind a large group all of whose bags were sent down the ''reject" shoot!)

    Finally the 23:30 coach from Edinburgh airport to Glasgow arrived and as the driver opened the door his face told all - a face like pot/thump/fizz/thunder (depending where you went to school!), he snatched my ticket, then bellowed at the remaining passengers to hurry up.  I couldn't help but notice a sign on the side of the coach saying "Edinburgh Airport welcomes the world"... oh dear.  Welcome to Edinburgh/Scotland/Britain.

    All of this left me with a lot to think about.  About prejudice and preconceptions.  About attitudes as well as actions.  About the reality that people who face the public can be tired and tetchy, and who knows what might be going on in their own lives.  It made me ponder my own outward presentation, and propensity to defensiveness and spikeyness when I am tired or feel (rightly or wrongly) I am being criticised.

    And I was especially reminded of the beauty, frailty and vulnerability of life.  Yesterday in Harpenden someone lost their life, a family and friends were left bereft, a train driver was traumatised, bystanders witnessed something horrendous, and across the rail network lives were disrupted, some of them in ways that may have been equally tragic.

    I'm not sure this really says anything much, it's probably just the ramblings of a sleep deprived mind, but life in all its fullness played out yesterday, and gave me much food for thought along the way.

  • Icon or Invasion?

    Earlier this week, I decided that I wanted to use some images at the start of tomorrow's sermon.  Over the years I have collected a number of striking images that have been used in worship, including the iconic image of the naked girl fleeing the napalm bombing.  I had pondered using Shoah (Holocaust) images and others that depicted attrocity/suffering throughout the twentieth century, and then decided instread to stick with 21st century images.

    Then came the whole Facebook debacle over whether or not this photo contravened their nudity policy.  And actually, whilst I think the photo should be permitted, their initial response raises important questions.  As a rule, we all agree that posting photos of naked children is inappropriate, if this had been a photo of a naked child refugee, or a naked child playing on a beach, it would never have been allowed.  So where is the line to be drawn?

    I made a very conscious decision in my choice of photos for tomorrow to avoid any that directly depicted dead bodies, even covered corpses, and specifically avoided any of injured or dead children.  The photo of Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a beach just over a year ago may have had shock value, but a year on, how many more children's bodies (and adults) have been washed up by the tide.  There is a very real risk of voyeurism and exploitation of sorrow on the one hand, and a cheapening of life/death on the other.

    So it's a tricky one.  Photos and images are hugely powerful and can express things that words alone will never capture.  At the same time, the twin risks of sensationalising and desensitising, and the potential for some sort of sanctified titillation are very real.  Clearly, the iconic photo has no sexualised intent, it would still be shocking and horrific if all the children were fully clothed.  At the same time, not one of the children captured in the image had the opportunity, let alone permission, to consent or otherwise.

    No answers here, but I am left to ponder where the fine, fuzzy, lines should be drawn over using images such as this one.