Thursday, 29 August 2013

A People's Story.

For the last few years the Summer months have been an opportunity for me to spend some time on Easdale Island where at least three generations of my father’s family were quarry workers.  (On the left is a picture of a group of quarry workers in nineteenth century Easdale).     I have never gone there without gathering some new information and this year was no exception.  The strange thing is that my father never said very much about his ancestors.   There could be many reasons for that but having checked the records of Inveraray Jail I am assured that there were no major scandals. 

Every family has its story to tell, however, and from what I have gathered the nineteenth century Easdale Buchanans had their days of celebration but also moments of drama and, sadly, times of tragedy.  Babies died, injuries were sustained at the quarry, money was often scarce.  In that they were no different from many other families but it was their own unique experience.   

It was God’s will that all His people would have a story to tell.  Not just about the twists and turns of their personal lives but what He had done for them in calling them to be His people, in liberating them from slavery in Egypt, in staying with them through their years of rebellion and unfaithfulness.  Israel would have a story to tell about her God and there is a constant refrain throughout the Old Testament that it was the responsibility of each generation to pass that story on to the next.  This is the Psalmist: ‘One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.’  (Psalm 145: 4)

The Bible is a testimony to the power of words not least the spoken word.  Words strengthen, inspire, empower.  And this was the purpose God had in the telling of His people’s story.  It was not just a way of remembering but a way of experiencing the continuing presence of a loving Heavenly Father. 

I am writing this on 28 August 2013 the 50th. Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s great speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, better known as the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.  These are words which have come down the generations to inspire those who believe that the world doesn’t need to be under the pall of injustice, violence, poverty and greed.  There is a better world not just to dream of but to work for.

The Gospel is a story of hope because it tells us how God through His Son Jesus began a process of renewal at the heart of humankind which will end with the glory of a new heaven and a new earth.  That is worth passing on and may this be at the heart of all our worship and activity in the Church season which lies ahead.  

Friday, 2 August 2013


I once heard the artist Peter Howson say that the most significant artistic development in the twentieth century was the graphic novel.  Whether this is true or not it is certainly the case that comics (which is what we used to call graphic novels) have come a long way in the last fifty or so years.  

One of my primary school teachers whenever she found a comic in your desk would pick it up by the tips of her thumb and forefinger, display it before the class with a look of intense disgust, and then drop it in the bin.  The message was that this object was not just disagreeable it was actually harmful.  The UK parliament of 1955 apparently agreed, to some extent at least.  The Home Secretary of the time, Gwilym Lloyd George, introduced The Children’s and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955 in response to concerns expressed by teachers and clergy at the possible effects of horror comics on children.  The real issue was the amount of violence and cruelty and ‘incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature’ which were depicted but it is fair to say that comics in general were not regarded as a good thing.  

Now graphic novels are regularly reviewed in the Guardian and the New York Times, and are written by the likes of Ian Rankin, Denis Mina and Neil Gaiman.  The comic is no longer part of the junk heap of our culture.  Anyone in any doubt about this should read Craig Thompson’s ‘Blankets’.  This is a tour de force of 582 pages which Thompson has drawn as well as scripted.  It is a story of love and its loss and faith and its loss conveyed in a way which would not be possible with words alone.  It manages to be poignant and funny but sometimes disturbing.  This is one of the problems with the graphic novel.  It is capable of dealing with serious, ‘adult‘ issues but anything with pictures is always going to be attractive to children.  As with films, books, TV programs, there are some graphic novels that are decidedly not suitable for children.  But there is no doubt that the genre has produced much to be valued and much that will endure.