Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My world at the moment..

The ancient gate once in the city wall surrounding Southampton.
The party city of Brighton.
Our friend Isaac up in the Shard in London.
Tower Bridge in the background ... near where we had lunch. 
"The Shard" in London... tallest building in Europe.
The ancient picturesque village of Biddenden.
As I noted last post I get very anguished about the troubled world we live in. I still get anguished about the innocent children being killed in Gaza. It seems that Israel is trying to make this offensive as murderous as they can. I still feel for people in Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iraq etc. I cannot imagine how it would feel to live in the midst of ongoing war and unrest. (What a silly word - people are being blown apart and it is called "Unrest"... "unrest" is my sleepless night... what is happening is tragedy! )  However I need to think positively.
I hear stories of Jewish people having the courage to protest against what their government is doing. I heard a story the other day of a Moslem man in Iraq, defending the rights of Christians to worship and losing his life for it. I hear of people breaking down walls of conflict reaching out to the needy on the other side. There are relief workers passionate about offering care in the face of danger and hardships. In the midst of the sadness there is human love and compassion for others... Love will win. Just down the road where we are in Glasgow there are representatives of a multitude of nations, with different cultures, religions and resources playing sport together in a great spirit of friendship. This is of course the Commonwealth games. So in the midst of darkness there is light. In the midst of hate there is love, truly the most powerful force in the universe.
Nice people
We went down to the South of England and l thought I'd list off the people we valued.

  • In Southampton an Indian local just passing saw us looking at a map and offered to help... in Brighton a schoolboy and later a student did the same thing. In London a young man gave us great directions to our lodgings.
  • We have a friend in London, Isaac, and he gave us the whole weekend of his time to guide us around places of interest, which he insisted on paying for. He took us to Wimbledon, a restaurant meal, the Shard, Madame Tussaud and Hever Castle. 
  • Isaac took us for an evening meal at his friends' place who opened their hearts and home to us. We enjoyed a relaxed evening chatting.
  • We caught the train to Headcorn and were on the bus asking questions of the impatient bus driver about how to get to Biddenden.  An elderly chinese lady nearby came up and said, "If you wait here in a few minutes the hospital bus will come and you can ride that for free." It was amazing how cooperative the bus driver became then. The lady just winked at us.
  • We visited the village of Biddenden where my wife's maternal ancestors came from. The lady in the Church, the proprietor of the guest house, the inn keeper all were so warm, friendly and helpful to us. A man rang up whose mother had the same surname as my wife's great grandmother. The woman from the Church had got hold of him.  He and his wife met us conducted us around places of family interest, then took us to see a castle, then took us home for afternoon tea. It was all so relaxing and friendly, as if we had known them for years. 
So we enjoy ourselves and have met some nice people.
Getting old
On the Monday we went to Biddenden, I had a sore throat. By the time we got back to Edinburgh (bus, train, two tube rides, train, bus and walk) I had a full fledged cold/ flu thing going. (I'll spare you the symptoms) It really knocked me and while I kept going a little bit, I eventually realised I had to stop and rest. I used to be able to shake off a cold easily, but this one has left me weak. I am virtually over it now, but it is a bugger getting old, I can't hack the pace like I used to..
On our flights from New Zealand the seats were so close together that I had to sit with knees splayed. Since then my "good knee" has been playing up and "goes out" every now and then causing untold pain. It hinders my walking and of course walking is what we are doing a lot of. I repeat ... it is a bugger getting old. When I retire I want to do a lot of tramping... will this prevent that?
During my cold I settled into two "theological" books we had purchased in Edinburgh, one by Marcus Borg and one by John Spong. I enjoyed both but they disturb me and set my mind thinking. Next post I'll tell you about them. Just over four more weeks in the UK. It was strange coming back to Edinburgh and it feeling like we were coming home. We are enjoying worshipping at St Augustine United Church and feel at home there. ... but I long for New Zealand quarter acre house sections, single story dwellings, gardens, bush and emptiness. I long for useful projects to do, responsibilities to pick up again and routine. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A troubled world

I have always been taken with the picture of Jesus crying over Jerusalem.  Luke has two stories of him looking over the city and weeping.  In one he pictures himself as a mother hen longing to gather the people under her wings. In another he says, "would that you would know the ways of peace." I am not like Jesus but I find myself with a lump in my throat over people in this world.
Ukraine and Gaza 
The situation in Ukraine has been highlighted again with the shooting down of the Malaysian Airliner. It is really sad this ongoing conflict in an area which cannot financially afford the destruction of war. My guess is that it will go on for a long time yet with many lives destroyed or deeply disrupted.
The situation between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is shocking. The local paper in the UK had photos of boys playing football in the sand. The next photo was of the same boys running for their life, and the caption said "a few seconds later they were dead," blown to pieces by an Israeli rocket. Places where the UN are sheltering families have been attacked. It seems merciless murder in the extreme. 
Moslems and the West
I have been both annoyed and reassured by the fact that in so many places I and my bags have been scanned. At Edinburgh Airport, visiting the "Shard" in London, at Madame Tussauds. Again and again I have been reminded of the possibility of terrorist attacks. At railway stations there are warnings about unattended luggage, there are no rubbish bins because "a bomb could be placed there". When we drove  past a mosque the other day, my social worker friend told of unrest and intimidation in the area surrounding the mosque. There are always reminders of the tension between the West and Moslem nations.
New Zealand sadnesses
Unable to watch New Zealand news reports I have devoured reports on the internet. A teenage boy is killed, he is unlicensed, affected by alcohol and driving on the wrong side of the road. In this one accident, with injuries to others, three families have had life shaken. Stupid, heartbreaking and tragic.  With a growing gap between rich and poor, the main politicians leading up to an election are playing juvenile political games, seemingly uncaring that so many are dumped on the scrap heap of life. There continue to be domestic abuse cases, murders and tragic stupid deaths. 
Of course there are more troubled spots and tragedies that I could go on about but I ache with sadness over the troubled world we live in. On Tuesday we spent time with a very distant relative of my wife in Biddenden, an area where one branch of her family came from. We were talking over the history of the area where at one time french prisoners of war had been kept, and badly treated. Later german POW's were kept around here and he remembered them as a boy. We got talking about wars, past and present and how it never seems to stop. "We in Britain have fought just about everybody at one stage or another!" he said.  Shaking his head he went on, "Life has enough challenges to face without having wars as well. Why can't people live and let live?"  Lately I have been really feeling the sadness of the troubled world we live in and wondering "why?"   
Made Real to me..
Yesterday was my wife's birthday so we went shopping in Edinburgh.  Jean went into a charity store to rummage through the clothing, while I "people watched" outside. All of a sudden I was aware that I was surrounded by men and women in muslim attire. I looked and next to the shop there was a lane leading to a mosque. Obviously some gathering had finished and the crowd was slowly dispersing. Some were wearing tee shirts protesting the Gaza situation. But there were lots of them, well over a hundred men went passed me. I must admit to feeling intimidated, they looked somehow serious and angry. (mind you many Scots look that way too?) I stood there trying not to stare as they kept going past talking in some foreign tongue. A number of women came out in a full or partial burka. As they thinned out I noticed a group of young guys stopped in front of a cafe, and they were looking at me.  They were talking among themselves and looking at me. "Perhaps they are wondering why I am loitering here?" I wondered to myself.  I felt uncomfortable and longed for my wife to stop her exploring.   I felt intimidated enough to move on down the road a bit and hang around there waiting for my wife, rather than be "in their face".  Just a small illustration of the distrust we feel toward each other, even though I claim to be an open minded, tolerant, non-racist guy. We do live in a troubled world. "Would that we would know the ways of peace." 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Post number 1002!... Verbal Diarrhea?

It all started 22nd July 2008
I just noticed that my last post was the 1001st post I had done since I began blogging in 2008. (Actually it is number 1002 because I once did a post the Chairman of the Church board found offensive so I deleted it to make him happy. He felt that I should not have written about some things that went on in a board meeting.) One thousand times I have burbled! I have shared my journey with its ups and downs. Sometimes they have been serious reflections, sometimes cathartic blasts and sometimes just me. I am sure I post too often... but it has become a sort of journal. Now that I have retired from Church ministry it is an outlet for some of my reflections on life and ongoing reading where as such reflections may have been saved for sermons.  I am sure I have said things I ought not to have said. I am sure some things I have written should not have gone on line for all and any to see.
On line nothing is secret
As we have been touring we have been booking accommodation and travel on line. It is a convenient way to do things. We have used a couple of different agencies to book accommodation.   But one thing troubles me. We get follow up emails from the people through whom we book asking us to rate the accommodation we have just used. I use only one of my email addresses to book the accommodation. I have a second email address which was my work one which I seldom use for anything these days. But when we get these emails about rating our accommodation they come to both addresses! How did they know I had the other one? What IT wizardry happened that enabled them to know my other email address?  The other thing I have been aware of for some time. I will search for accommodation in say "Southampton" and then I'll start getting emails advertising "Hotels in Southampton" from various sources. This morning I searched for the prices of garden sheds in Edinburgh via Google. I then went on to check out New Zealand news on the Yahoo site. Sure enough advertisements started to appear for Garden sheds. I recall once when I was sending and receiving emails relating to a funeral I was planning, then advertisements related to funerals started appearing. e.g. florists, monumental masons.etc.  Nothing is secret on the internet!
Anyway that is blog post number 1002. I have some other stuff about wars, downed planes, politicians and apologies bubbling away in my mind so I may yet post again soon. I am actually a shy guy but sometimes in this medium I get verbal diarrhea! Sorry... 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thank God for the “disinterested” of this world.

The plaque in the ruined Church of Holyrood in Southampton. "The Disinterested"

A man was telling us all the “beautiful” places in the UK we ought to have been visiting. We listened but we have not really come here for natural scenery. To be honest, if natural scenery is what we want to see, we would not have to move from NZ. I look at some of the photos by my facebook friends of NZ places and I am astounded again at the amazingly beautiful country we live in. We are not travelling looking for beauty, though there are nice spots in the UK.  No, we have been enjoying looking at old buildings, reading up on history and catching a feel of the movements of time that led to the society we enjoy today. It has been fascinating and each place we visit opens up new understandings.
In Southampton we came across this plaque. There had been a deadly fire in the Parish and a group of men had rushed in to save the people, but they were killed or mortally injured in the attempt. When the Church was rebuilt the grateful town placed a memorial plaque that was headed up;
“Sacred to the memory of twenty two brave and disinterested men … who in attempting to check the ravages of a calamitous fire in this parish … perished in the flames etc…”  When we first read it we thought “disinterested”? What do they mean, “disinterested”? These guys got involved? How could they be described as “disinterested”?  What it means, it seems, is that they got involved, but they didn’t have to. It wasn’t their responsibility. It wasn’t their families burning! They could have been spectators.  Saving the fire would not have brought reward or return to them.  They were “disinterested” but they were still prepared to get involved. That was why they were valued so much, they went above and beyond what could be expected of them to help their fellow humans. 
There is a second thing that I have noticed.  As I have learned about the movements and events of history there has been some horrible times for people. Economic systems, feudal ways of running society, changes in farming or industry, disease and such like have brought miserable times, poverty and hardship for people. But alongside that I have found that there have been a few people in each age who have felt called to be there and provide help for the poor. A rich Lord in North of Scotland employed proud poor people on a project just to give them some money to live off without making them feel like charity cases. The structure they were building he did not need, and he even got some to pull it down regularly so that the work would still exist. He had made money elsewhere but felt the need to share it when he saw the poverty back home. In Scottish cities there were often church based groups who reached out to the poor and vulnerable in the midst of times of hardship and change. Sometimes enraged preachers would provide programs, but also bravely preach against injustice.  In Southampton in the 1200’s Franciscan Friars set up accommodation, hospitals, gardens and markets for the poor. Again in Southampton in medieval times Church sisters set up a hospital and community for leprosy sufferers. Thank God for disinterested people of ages past who have gone the extra mile to help fellow humans when they did not need to.
I am thankful for those who do the same today. The people with me on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. They needn’t worry about the running of a night shelter, fund raising, employing, providing a facility, but they feel compelled to be involved. In my St John chaplaincy there are many volunteers who give hours and hours for their community. They share themselves in compassion.  Thank God for the “disinterested” who nevertheless are prepared to get involved when they don't have to. Great stuff! 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thinking out loud. .. again.

If the Church disappeared…
Most people could not really care if the Church stopped existing.  Many would in fact be pleased, because they see religion as the source of many evils. I am not impressed with much Church life, and often think it deserves to die. I am sure western societies would continue without the Church. But something is going wrong for people in our communities.  They need help!  I would be concerned if the church was lost or ignored because there are many indications that people still need the Church as “the keeper of the way of Jesus.”
Here are some indicators…
I encountered one man at a chaplaincy and asked after his welfare. “Life is a shit sandwich Dave,” he replied. “You’re born, you die and everything in between is just shit!”  We went on to talk about his experiences that prompted the comment. But for many people I believe they experience lives like this. There is not much that is good in their existence and they do anything to get at least some jollies.  Reflect a moment on these items. A father involved in addictions, steals a donation box out of a store and flees leaving his children in the store. (duh!) A well-known restaurateur dies drunk in his swimming pool.  When we go to a wedding these days, as the couple say their vows we wonder, “Yeah right? For how long?”  I have heard conversations on the buses (the Scots speak loudly) and I am astounded at the attitudes, the cattiness, the threats and the sick level of interaction. Because the Brazil team got soundly beaten at the football world cup, Brazilians tipped over cars, burned buses and vandalised.  Many people seem to live for the superficial distraction and meaning that following sport brings.  We are living near Government housing estates and there are some sad looking families coming out of there. Life looks miserable for them. Even though we know it kills, I am surprised at how many people in Scotland are smokers. It is deeply sad that they do not value their life more.  Binge drinking and alcohol and drug abuse seem to be a real problem in Western cultures.
Anger - We were on a bus in Inverness and a man climbed on demanding that the bus driver to do something for him. He expressed so much unprovoked anger and left still yelling abuse.  Again at Inverness a few times we encountered a man standing talking aggressively with others. It was like he was looking for a fight. He is not alone. In my hometown some intoxicated 15 & 16-year-old girls beat up and kicked some 19-year-old girls in the street. In another city security camera footage showed four 15 & 16 year olds mercilessly beating up a liquor storeowner for a few beers. In a New Zealand rural area some people shot 195 sheep for no reason one weekend. The next weekend they shot 20 others.  People seem to live on the verge of destructive anger.   
Sexual distortion - Rolf Harris, entertainer and star of children’s programs and one of my favourite entertainers in days gone by, has been exposed for his sexual abuse of under age girls and women.  But he is not alone amongst well-known people.  A Catholic bishop in Australia is involved in sexual abuse claims and I know that some leaders in other denominations are not innocent of abuse either. The secondary school girls around here wear school blouses, with ties and skirts to school, but they are arranged in such a way that they look like a stripper done up as a fantasy schoolgirl for a men’s bachelor party! We live in a sexualised society.  Sexual violence and things like date rape are frequent.  In spite of women’s lib and our PC world, men still treat women as sex objects in destructive ways.
Missing out..
I could go on. But watch the news on TV, the Internet or in the newspapers and there is something deeply wrong with people. They are sad, angry, bad, unhinged and leading miserable crisis riddled existences. I am not judging these people, I just feel sad because of their troubled mixed up experience of life.  While there are many people living beautiful lives, without the need for “religion”, there seems a need in many others’ lives for an anchoring point, breadth or depth. We need “spiritual depth” some how and need it badly.  I read in a museum here in Scotland how, in times past when the cities were bogged down in drunkenness, prostitution, greed and miserable living, Church preachers have saved the day, reversed the trends and changed society.  The Church potentially has something to offer today too, but it has been so distorted, wrapped up in old ways and in other baggage, that it is largely ignored.
Jesus’ message to me…
I am so grateful for the difference that Jesus has made in my life. That sounds like a fanatical religious evangelistic exaggeration. I simply say though that my knowledge of Jesus’ way has profoundly impacted my life for good. I am not a saint, but I would be so much more of a mess without his influence. Here in summary is how I read Jesus “speaking” to me.
“You are important!
Everybody is important!
You are brothers and sisters.
You are so important that I invite you
to a lifestyle
where you
so live that you
devote your personality,
your gifts and abilities,
to enhancing the lives of those about you
- your family
- your community
- your nation
- your world.
When you do that
you will discover transformation
in your life and world.
Your personality will grow,
your gifts and abilities will be extended
your life will be full of adventure and significance.
You will sense a partnership with
the sacred, the significant and the ultimate,
and when you die
your life will continue
to impact the world
for good. …
because love never dies.”
I look at the people around me and I so wish that more people could have that simple profound direction, ongoing transformation and sense of significance that I have been lucky to experience.
Bishop Spong’s writes…
I have used these words before but he puts the essence of the above very concisely. He quotes the words of Jesus given in John’s gospel Chapter 10 verse 10. “I have come that they might have life, life in all its fullness” (or “Abundant life”)
Bishop John Spong says that Jesus calls us to;
“Live fully,
love wastefully,
be all that you can be,
and dedicate yourself
to building a world
in which everyone
has the opportunity
to do the same.”
I long for people to know that message deep in their living. While for me most current church life sucks, I would love to be part of a community of people who model that in the way they live and share that in love with others.
Another theologian Hans Kung writes,
By following Jesus Christ,
the human being in the world of today
can truly humanly love, act, suffer, and die,
in happiness and unhappiness,
life and death,
sustained by God and helpful to others.” 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Eat humble pie

Interior Knox Church Dunedin Enclosed pulpit on the right.
On May 27th last year I wrote a post entitled "Religious Snobbery".  I stand by most of what I said then but I have learned a bit more since.  In the post I ranted about a presbyterian minister who insisted that I preach from the high up pulpit one evening when I was preacher at Knox Church in Dunedin. I would have preferred to have stood down the front and done my thing. It annoyed me! Well I learned something that may bring some insight into the situation.
We visited the Edinburgh Museum and learned about the reformation and early Church happenings in Edinburgh. Of course this was the beginnings of the Presbyterian Church, and the Presbyterian Church in Dunedin began from Presbyterians moving to New Zealand from Scotland. The ethos and emphases would have been passed down. In the museum there were at least two or three pulpits on display. There was an explanation that said that the Bible and the "preaching of the Word" were seen as important in the reformed Churches, so the pulpits became a central focus in Church architecture and worship. That is why they had ornate, big and high pulpits, it was an important theological change and statement. 
Now when I got directed in an important Dunedin Presbyterian Church to preach from the pulpit ("You will preach from the pulpit!") it may be that it was this theological position that led to this insistence? If it is, I still disagree, but I guess I understand why it seemed so important. It would be like him coming into a congregation of my denomination and saying, "We will not have communion this morning." (Churches of Christ have an important tradition of weekly communion.)
You live and learn. ... sorry for being so harsh.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What future for the Church?

A beautiful chapel on Orkney Italian prisoners of war built and decorated so that they could worship while imprisoned.

St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney took 300 years to build.

Augustine United Church - An old building but a relevant ethos for today.
The sad reality
We have been wandering around Edinburgh and Scotland. There are Church buildings galore!

  • Some have become community halls, theaters or restaurants, their intended purpose of worship long since forgotten.
  • On our bus trip to John O'Groats we saw many church buildings for sale, and others just deserted, with grass growing all around them, vegetation in the cracks of the edifice and in some cases doors left ajar.  Obviously they have ceased to function.
  • The many still functioning Churches we have passed look locked up, enclosed fortresses with outdated noticeboards trying to entice people in. 
  • We attended the local Church, (Tron Kirk) a large building which has at one time been quite popular but is looking past its prime. It is in the centre of a big population. There are high rise housing estates. There are streets and streets of quite intense close housing. It is the "establishment" denomination in Edinburgh, and yet on a Sunday morning there were only around 30 people there at best and most quite elderly. 
  • The Church there is doing some good things to make contact with the local population. We were quite impressed when we first read about it. But... the services and ethos are really not much progress on the 1950's. They are there to "win souls"... to add to those attending Church. The motivation for any community contact was to "get them in" not service out of unconditional love. The second (and last) Sunday we were there a guy who preaches frequently there, gave a sermon which consigned those who did not believe his interpretation of the passage to hell. We left at the end of the service not hanging around for a cup of tea. It was so irrelevant and old theology, we sadly literally felt repelled and just wanted out of there.
  • I see much modern "successful" Christianity as a real distortion of the way of Jesus.
  • Before I left Dunedin I wrote directly to more than 50 local Churches on behalf of the Night Shelter to see if they, through youth groups, women's groups or whatever could participate in raising some money, even a little bit, for our Night Shelter. It would be an easy task, just raise $100 or some similar amount toward caring for the homeless, the needy - a very biblical cause endorsed by Old Testament instructions through to Jesus' Good Samaritan story in the Gospels. As far as I know these letters have produced no response.... from over fifty congregations of Christians - What sort of discipleship are we producing? I am pretty disillusioned by that! For me followers of Jesus that do not want to respond to the needs of the homeless in their midst are not being true to their Lord.
A good example...
After our experiences with the local Kirk, we looked on the internet for Progressive Christian Churches. We discovered the Augustine United Church, a congregation of the United Reformed Church in the UK. We knew that many congregations from our movement had joined this group, so decided to attend there. It was an inner-city Church just around the road from the Castle and Greyfriars (which they have a partnership with) and a half-hour bus ride from my son's house. I loved its ethos.   We enjoyed the service which was made easy for visitors to navigate their way through and feel at home in. I would probably have added a bit of variety to it, but it was thoughtful, relevant and we felt at home. We will go back. There were around thirty there, and mostly older folk, but some were away at a conference. I have long given up on the idea that big numbers mean a church has the "Truth".  This community, though of course not perfect, rang bells with me. It is inclusive, takes into account modern Biblical scholarship, has a handle on relevant language, relates in a positive way with its community and is aware of justice and environmental issues. But...The numbers are low and elderly.... the building maintenance costs are high..... And for the most part the world ignores it.
What is the future?I ask the question... "What is going to happen to the Church?"
- My wife says of the empty and for sale Churches - "Probably the real followers of Jesus left them and are following Jesus in their own way."
Having spent my life as a minister I can look back and know I have helped others live more full lives. Church ministry has given me a base from which to make a difference in the world so I do not regret that.  But have I wasted a lot of my energy propping up an establishment that is bound to die?
I say the future lies in four areas...

  • Jesus' followers need to be radical servants in the world and get back to compassion as the core of what it means to follow Jesus. ("Be compassionate as God is compassionate." Luke 6:36 )
  • Jesus followers need to be inclusive in outlook.. seeing their way as one spirituality among others.
  • Jesus followers should be catalysts for good in the community working with people of good will to enrich human living, to work for justice and to encourage community. (breaking down walls and building bridges)
  • Jesus followers need to divorce ourselves from the perspective that the point of being Christian is to get to heaven.  Transformation of life now is our calling.
Today I visited Edinburgh Museum and learned of the disruption of Scottish life and Church that the reformation had in its day. A new understanding of faith and "Church" emerged and brought real changes in the way people saw the Church. We need a profound reformation that is just as disturbing!  ... And maybe  communities of "real" followers of Jesus will have a place in the world of the future.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Inverness and beyond

Inverness Castle from a bridge across the river Ness.

A very early house in Inverness

A cairn and markers in memory of those killed in the Battle of Culloden.
An ancient cottage on the edge of the Culloden Battlefield
New Zealand gets a mention at John O'Groats. Bluff (Southern tip of the South Island) is 12,875 miles away.

How and why did they transport and erect this circle of stones 5000 years ago?

Northern adventure...
We decided that we wanted to go north of Edinburgh and see the Highlands.  On line we booked on a bus to Inverness and sorted out a Bed and Breakfast place there. We took two small backpacks and left Edinburgh, arriving in Inverness at around 2 p.m. So began our exploration.  For the rest of that day and on two other days we wandered around Inverness enjoying the ancient buildings and the history of the place. A visit to the Museum on our last day there put it all together for us. In New Zealand we are a relatively young country so to see buildings built in the 1600's and earlier is amazing. We also enjoy looking at different farming methods, different lifestyles and the different ways of speaking the English language. I share two special visits we made.
We visited the Battlefield of Cullodon.  Here the last battle on British soil took place in 1746. It was between the Jacobites and the Government forces. At school we used to sing the "Skye Boat Song" ("Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing" etc.) Bonnie Prince Charlie was a much romantacised hero in my childhood mind. The Battle of Culloden came at the end of the Jacobite Rising. Prince Charles had been in exile with his father James in France and had come across to Scotland to reclaim the crown of England for the Stuarts. He and his Jacobites had been successful moving down the country virtually to London. But the better resourced government troops slowly drove them back to the Highlands and Charles decided to take a stand at Culloden. He was defeated. At first glance one could believe that this was the Scots against the English, but it was far more complicated than that. The Jacobite risings were more widespread taking in Ireland, Wales and parts of Northen England. There were political issues, religious freedom issues, lifestyle issues (the Clan system annoyed the government) and royalty questions involved. There were English and Scots on both sides. Charles was a 24 year old wanting to claim the crown, and he gathered support. The Government troops soundly defeated the Jacobites, killing their injured, then went on to "Pacify the Highlands" by cruelly treating anybody, men, women and children who they deemed as being supportive of the Jacobites. The Clan system was crushed and many aspects of Highland life and culture discouraged.  Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped, dressed for a time as a woman, ended up on Skye and from there caught a ship back to France. He later died in Rome, having lost his wife and children and becoming a hopeless alcoholic ... neither a "prince" nor "bonnie."  In my childhood I had read about some of this history, it has been interesting to catch up and learn about it as an adult. It is very sad. It is all about men, of various sorts on both sides, wanting power and control over other men. They want to control others' rights, thoughts and freedoms. Lives were lost, misery multiplied and nobody really was a winner. It happens again and again in human history. Sometimes it is nation against nation. Sometimes it is ethnic groups within the one nation. Sometimes it is people on a school committee or a Church board or in a family or... where ever humans group together there seems to be power and control conflicts emerging.  The visit to the Culloden Battlefield was so interesting but sad and disturbing as well. I was talking once to a man from another country asking about life back home. It was for him pretty good, better materially than he could hope for in New Zealand - at least for a long time. I asked him why he wanted to live in our country if it was so good. "Here you can think what you like. It is terrible to be in a country where they tell you what to think, and you dare not voice a different perspective." Power and control out of control. 
Orkney Islands
Amongst the many tourist brochures we discovered a day trip from Inverness up to John O'Groats and across on the ferry to the Orkney Islands. It involved a guided tour around places of interest there for six hours, a ferry trip and bus trip back to Inverness. It would be a full-on fourteen hours, but we decided to do it. The trip up to John O'Groats was interesting seeing the different parts of the North of Scotland, the villages and towns. This was made more interesting because a hostess on the bus gave us information about each place and stories about some of the history. We enjoyed the journey to John O'Groats and it was a treat being there because as a boy I had read about this northern "end of the road" point of the UK.  It was a pleasant ferry ride to Orkney Islands and we had a very special time there.  There are eighty something Islands with only 21 of them inhabited. I learned that there are 21,500 people living there, which was quite a surprise for me.  I learned too that there was a prisoner of war camp there for Italian prisoners during WWII, and that the British Navy sheltered there in Skara Flow, but that a U Boat crept through and torpedoed a british battleship.  There was lots of history but it was the Prehistory that moved me. There has been a neolithic village uncovered there called Skara Brae inhabited 5000 years ago. This was the stone age just when people had begun to farm as well as be hunter/gatherers. Having been covered in sand the houses were intact and we could stand and look into them. There were places where people slept. A rock "dresser" (Shelves) was a focal part of the room and a central fireplace gave warmth. The houses were joined together by passage ways and there was a "Workshop" area.  I stood there amazed. People lived, loved, raised children and worked in this spot 5000 years ago, I could see their handiwork, and their open plan lifestyle! These are representatives of our ancestors, learning how to live and forging family and community lifestyles! I studied prehistory a little bit at University, and now I was seeing it. A few miles from there we went to the "Ring of Brodgar".  There are 27 big flat stones (2-4 metres high) in a perfect 103.6 metre diameter circle. There used to be 60 of them and they were transported some distance to the site in Neolithic stone age times.  These predate Stonehenge and the pyramids. They are thought to have some religious/ ceremonial significance. And there are other prehistoric sites we were introduced to around the area. I walked around the circle of stones and marveled! I am treading a path where people walked 5000 years ago. I am seeing their handiwork, their expressions of the depth and mystery in life.  I simply loved that experience, it has enriched my life and spirit. We get so "now centric"! We forget that the lifestyles we enjoy were forged by centuries or millennia of living, loving and exploring.   I am truly grateful for the opportunity to visit there, even though the ferry ride back was quite rough.
Last night was rough... Lying in bed for some unknown reason I had a few hours  of palpitations?.. It has never happened before.  You feel a long way from home when that happens. They went but I imagined going home in a ashes urn for a while. I am fine now.