Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything ready-made.
Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Wendell Berry, from ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’

Humanity at the Boundary

Man is the creature of the boundary between heaven and earth; he is on earth and under heaven. He is the being that conceives his environment, who can see, hear, understand and dominate it: ‘Thou hast put all things under his feet.’ He is the essence of a free being in this earthly world. And the same creature stands beneath heaven; and in face of the invisibilia, of what he cannot conceive or dispose of, he does not dominate but is completely dependent. Man knows about his earthly fellow-creature, because he is so unknowing in the face of the heavenly world. At this inner boundary of creation stands man… Man is the place within creation where the creature in its fullness is concentrated, and at the same time stretches beyond itself; the place where God wishes to be praised within creation, and may be praised.

Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (Harper, 1959), 63.

The Realm of the Kingdom

If the kingdom has come in an initial but not yet consummative form, what does its current form involve? … The emphasis of the kingdom picture in the present phase is not on realm, but rule.

Nonetheless, a realm is envisioned. Jesus’ realm is the world as it is manifested in his scattered followers. The kingdom is contained in Jesus’ total authority over salvific blessings, an authority that is present over everyone. The presence of his rule in believers anticipates his coming to earth to rule physically, when he will exercise dominion and judgement over the earth.

Darrell Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts (2012), 207


htc3Two weeks ago, I preached my last sermon in Kilmallie Free Church as the Assistant Minister. A couple of Sundays before, I preached for the last time and presided over my final communion at Acharacle Free Church. As always I especially enjoyed being at Acharacle. The Lord has brought together a good number of solid and vibrant Christian people there, and I pray that he would add to their number those who are being saved.

In the last two weeks we’ve moved home, with all of the busyness that comes with that. But, there’s been time for reflection too. We came to Kilmallie & Ardnamurchan Free Church in August 2014. Three years and three months later (roughly), we’re moving on. There have been some wonderful moments during that time, but also some deeply distressing and difficult times. Pastoral ministry always has this mix I guess, but the last few months have been particularly tough. But God, through his grace, speaks into these situations and calls us onwards under his care and healing hand. My prayers are very much with the folk at Kilmallie & Ardnamurchan Free Church as they move into the future and a new chapter in the life of the congregation. I pray for good things under the Lord’s good hand.

For myself, and for Rachel and our children (who have their own lives now pretty much) it’s a new chapter too. In January, I take up the post of Lecturer in New Testament studies on the faculty at Highland Theological College. I’m humbled, and grateful, to have the opportunity to work in the academy. I’m looking forward to working for the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland’s newest university. I’m looking forward to working there in the service of the church. I’ve always prayed that my theological endeavours would be undertaken as worship, and that they would serve the everyday folk of the church. My prayer is the same now, as I prepare to begin teaching at my second, and most-loved (sorry Imperial College) alma mater. HTC holds a special place in my heart. So, entering that fine Dingwall building in January – although I’ve done it so many times before – will be a special moment.

But it’s daunting – I have hard acts to follow… My NT Jedi Master, Dr Mike Bird (now at Ridley College, Melbourne), taught me, one of his padawans (!), all of my undergraduate NT modules and laid a foundation for which I continue to thank the Lord. Dr Jason Maston (now of Houston Baptist University) supervised my PhD studies and modelled to me academic rigour. My predecessor, Rev Dr Alistair Wilson (who’s heading to Edinburgh Theological Seminary) loved HTC so much he did two stints! Mike followed him the last time he departed – so I really do have a lot to live up to! All of these are good men, Neutestamentlers of quality, and I hope myself in turn to be able to give a good account to the one of whom the New Testament most eloquently speaks.

Morphing a Blog

kilmalliefreechurchI’m one week into my new calling as Assistant Minister of Kilmallie and Ardnamurchan Free Church. It’s a privilege to be serving the Kingdom of Jesus Christ here in Lochaber and out west in Ardnamurchan. Yesterday, I preached for the first time in the Acharacle Free Church and learned a bit more of the history of the Free Church witness there from some of our own worthies. May the Kingdom of Grace, Love, Peace and Mercy come for new generations in this beautiful part of God’s world. 

And so, with my changing ministry, World Without End is changing. From the sporadic blog of a PhD researcher working from an ageing shed in the Outer Hebrides to the hopefully less sporadic blog of a minister in a new luxurious (by comparison) ‘shed’.

I hope to use World Without End to continue my sporadic theological reflections, but also as a resource for the congregations in Caol and Acharacle. There’ll be a time of transition, and we’ll see how it goes…

Farewell to Uist

IMG_6691Most of the posts here on World Without End are reflections on theology and the Church. I don’t tend to write many posts with a more personal angle. However, every now and again it seems appropriate. The occasion this time is my leaving Uist to pursue a new calling as Assistant Minister of Kilmallie and Ardnamurchan Free Church. There’ll be plenty of time to post about that new adventure, but now is the time to reflect on over ten years in Uist…

Back in February 2004, Rachel and I arrived here from Llantrisant in Wales with two small children (and a cat). It was a big move, especially arriving in mid-February! In the words of the Runrig song, the Outer Hebrides are islands ‘at the edge of the world’. At the north-west periphery of the UK, clinging to a spot on the edge of the vast expanse of the North Atlantic, over 50 miles from the Scottish mainland, Uist is in every sense remote. Life here isn’t easy. The winters are long, stormy and dark. The isolation is more than can be got used to, with the huge distances involved in travelling to see family and friends. But, we came here to help in rural ministry, and to learn about rural ministry. And we’ve been here much longer than we thought we would be back in 2004.

South Uist has been our home for ten years. It is both wild and beautiful, with mountains on the east, and flat machair land to the west behind white sandy beaches. The treeless landscapes show a variety and richness far greater than the island’s size suggests. Over time we all form bonds not only with people, but with places. Our lives are set within a landscape. We learn its contours, its horizons, the patterns of the weather, the seasons, the plants, the birds. Places grow into us, set roots deep down. Living here, battling through fierce storms, standing under dazzling night skies and aurora, crossing the water, watching eagles, fish jumping, deer on the hillsides, and walking amongst the myriad tiny flowers on the summer machair – all this has both enriched our lives and profoundly influenced my own theology.

As we leave, we don’t just take away a love for this island, but for its people – and all Uibhisteachs. There is something about the Hebridean people. Of course, they can’t all be lumped together like that, but whether Leodhasachs, Hearachs or Uibhisteachs, many Hebrideans carry a dignity and warm-heartedness which marks them out as folk of quality. The Gaelic language binds them together and infuses a rich culture of music and song. It’s been a privilege to live amongst and to share our lives with so many islanders. We are incomers, but our desire has always been to love the local folk, their land, their ways. Of course, these islands have been especially marked by Christian faith. Whether the Presbyterianism of the north, or the Roman Catholicism of the south, Christianity has shaped these communities. I’m glad to have spent ten years living amongst communities where the vast majority of people belong to the Roman Catholic church. My encounters with that tradition of the Church, and with faithful people from it, have brought me to a fresh appreciation not only of our important differences, but also of the great truths of Christianity which we as Presbyterians share, in the holy catholic Church.

The crisis of faith which is taking so many away from the church is evident here, yet a greater faith remains than in most places. Our prayer for this island of ours, and for all the Uists, is that there would be a return to faith. Not a return to forms of dead religion which keep people from Jesus and his transforming power (whether Presbyterian or Roman Catholic, this is most of the explanation for the crisis of faith in these communities), but a return to true faith, which leads people to follow Jesus Christ as disciples, and which results in true religion. Not Presbyterianism (!), but the true religion seen in beautiful lives of real-world holy people, people living for God – Father-Son-Spirit – and his kingdom. People whose lives make a difference through words and actions. This can happen in any church! Our prayer for these communities is that folk would find and follow Jesus – and from him find life in all its fullness.

And yet, it’s the South Uist and Benbecula congregation of the Free Church of Scotland – its people and its story – that will always hold a very special place in our hearts. This is the congregation we came here to work with and to learn from. To spend ten years amongst such a wonderful church family, being taught so much, and being able to teach, sharing so much joy and sadness, facing challenges and seeing God at work in people’s lives – it has been an immense privilege for which we thank God. We came to help here. But, we’ve received far more than we have given. We came to learn, and we have been taught so much and been equipped so well for the next chapter of our lives. The congregation has been the perfect backdrop to my own seven years of theological study and biblical research. It’s been a privilege to pass on to folk here what I have received. It’s been a privilege for us to see folk growing in faith, and to see folk come to faith in Jesus Christ. And there are people here, and departed, whose example and influence will never leave us. Here in this small congregation are jewels of people! Thank you all for your fellowship over ten years. And to God be the glory.

In a few day’s time we will, along with two teenagers, a cat, a dog and an extra cat, be leaving Lochboisdale for a home on the mainland. We thank God for the path that brought us from our home in Wales to this island at the edge of the world. We’re not Gaels, but in Fort William, we’ll own the words of the emigrants’ song: ‘Mountains divide us, and a waste of seas… Yet we in dreams behold the Hebrides’.

Weiterfahrt von Vorsprung

I’m back blogging. Previously, I was posting my experiences and reflections on studying theology as an undergraduate at Highland Theological College, on a blog called Vorsprung durch Theologie. This is not the usual, busy blogging of the proper theo- and biblio-bloggers, you understand (I haven’t got the time for that), but the occasional, sporadic blogging that I adopted on VdT. It’s therapeutic when you spend long hours in the company of ancient philosophers, and hopefully someone finds something interesting once in a while.