The Art of Travel (Part 2)

This is the second posting from my travels which mirror the journeys of  great artists.   The artworks give an added dimension to the richness of my remembered experiences, and set my photography into a historical context of change and continuity.

I find that after decades or even centuries, that places of beauty or historical significance are as compelling today as they were in yesteryear. Art reflecting art. Art capturing wonder.

John Constable (Stonehenge - England)

John Constable “Stonehenge”

Chinese School Hong Kong Harbor

Chinese School (1850s) “Hong Kong Harbour”

Vaclav Jansa Prague Starnova Synagogue.jpg

Vaclav Jansa – “Prague Staronova Synagogue”


Claude Monet - Water Lilies at Giverny

Claude Monet “Water lilies at Giverny”

David Roberts (Kom Ombo - Egypt)

David Roberts “Kom Ombo, Egypt”


The Art of Travel (Part 1)

I have done a lot of travel over the years, and while much has been associated with work or study, a great deal has also been for pleasure and self-improvement.  As I have made my way to “must see” sites, I found it interesting to compare my own experiences with the viewpoints of great artists who have visited them before me.

There is a certain enriching quality of not only seeing the fantastic sites, but in comparing them to the eye of a master.  While this post may not be deep in any philosophical or spiritual way, I do hope others might take up the challenge of sharing their “art of travel.”

Claude Monet - Bridge at Giverny

Claude Monet “Bridge at Giverny”

Claude Monet (Windmill - Amsterdam)

Claude Monet “Windmill  Amsterdam”

David Roberts (Eastern Gate - Jerusalem)

David Roberts “Eastern Gate Jerusalem”

J A Grimshaw - Scarborough Grand Hotel from harbour

J A Grimshaw “Scarborough Grand Hotel from Harbour”


Authority over Authorities

scrollMany people practice a deference to authority.  This in part is drilled into us by parents, then later by teachers.  It is the rare individual who openly questions “why?”  Most of us take certain points for granted because someone in authority “said so.”

Okay, at one level, when your maths teacher tells you 5 x 5 = 25, it is a fairly safe bet (at least in base 10), but what about historical “facts,” and theological truths?  Here we need to seek greater authorities.

I do find it funny at times when that one brave student queries an orthodoxy.  “But, how do we know? We weren’t there!”  Here evidence from contemporary writings and testimony from near history are useful.  Archaeology, in part comes to the aid of such explanations as well.  But, where might we find such authority?   It certainly isn’t from my own “absolute knowledge.”  The best I can do is make appeal for the authorities that educated me. Or is that the best?  What might be even better?

There are some instances where a source can be said to be ultimately trustworthy.  In Acts 17 we find that,  “10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  The Bereans were not prepared to just take this itinerant rabbi’s word for things. They went to the source, to Tanakh to see if his words held up to scrutiny.  

I have in my life been under authority.  I followed orders as a matter of duty.  The military works that way.  But the authority was from a source, the regulations and traditions of the service.  The arbitrary commands of a superior were always in light of this greater authority.  

Scripture provides a similar bedrock of authority.  It is not the fleeting dictate of any rabbi, priest, or minister that makes a point “true,” but the Word of God itself.  I therefore challenge us today to seek Authority rather than the authorities for our answers.


On Learning


Human beings learn.  It is one of our strengths.  Learning and education are not necessarily the same things, however, as learning happens through experience as well as through instruction. Some level of learning is innate and each of us has our own aptitudes.

I have been an educator for nearly three decades.  I have seen a lot of theory come and go, but in the end what makes for a good education is that learning happens.  For some this is formal or even by rote, for others it is didactic, or Socratic. Each needs to be engaged in a way that suits them.

My own education says a lot.  I have six degrees (yes, I know), but I am limited in my practical skills.  I have recently learned how to change a fuse wire, and I am fairly competent at Ikea type flat pack construction (though it took me more than one wonky bookcase to achieve any success).

So what is the point of this?  Simply that we all have our own competencies and strengths.  Don’t let anyone who has a superior air put you down!  It is a pet peeve of mine that anyone uses educational attainment to belittle another.  In fact, it is the one instance where I will play the one-upmanship game.  I remember being at a seminar, and a (what I thought to be) interesting theory was put forward by an undergraduate speaker.  The response of one audience member was, “Well that is all well and good, but when I was at University X, we concluded . . . .”  Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did come to her aid with, “That’s interesting [person from Uni X], but when I was a Cambridge  . . . .”  I guess you see my point.

In the end, and as I have noted, I am highly educated, but I can’t change a sink washer. Believe in yourself, for every contribution to the world you make is a valid one. Keep on learning,  but more importantly keep on contributing!


Without sin cast the first stone

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In John 8: 3-11 we read,

“3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Okay, this was an age when adultery bore the death penalty.  It was not a time when co-habitation was the norm.  Marriage was considered the only appropriate sexual release, and the law was on the side of the “wronged” partner, especially if the husband.

But the preceding verses tell us this was a test for Jesus, not necessarily a search for justice.  This woman seems to be a victim of not only her indiscretion, but of the malice of the rabbis.  Note too that the man with whom she had sinned is not also brought to Jesus for judgement though she was “caught in the very act.”

It appears mercy is shown here.  Yes, this is absolutely so (and in keeping with Jesus’ mission to Earth).  But, it also is the ultimate teaching by example scenario for He challenges the men there to use their own lives as the measure of their condemnation. Notice that once challenged the crowd disperses beginning with the eldest.  Wisdom is at play, and even the youthful idealism and fervour is eventually overwhelmed by the reality of their (and our) sinfulness.

Are we any different than the crowd?  Are we quick to be judgmental, and slow to show mercy?  Before we condemn, let us be slow to pick up the rocks in the first place.


Belzec – A Brief Visit, But Long on Reflection

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Back in 2013 I took part in a training seminar at the Belzec site in Eastern Poland. This monument is at the site of the Nazi death camp.  This is not a concentration camp, but a killing centre. The memorial/museum at Belzec offers a great opportunity to reflect on story of not only of the Holocaust, but on the idea of memory itself. The monument is symbolic on several levels and challenges those who see it to remember.

The monument is made of stones which on one level give the site a cemetery atmosphere, but the symbolism moves further with the stone chosen being slag to reflect burning. This is a chilling reminder. The archaeology of the site found mass burial pits, these are marked out with darker stone. As you enter the pathway through the stones, you first come to iron plates which bear an image that can be seen as either the Star of David or as railway track (or both). The path leads to a remembrance wall.

Surrounding the stones is another walkway which bears the names of the communities which perished there, written in the languages of those communities. The iron of the metal letters at the entrance, has been allowed to weather naturally and the resulting trails of rust are as many tears for those lost community.

The museum at the site has an informative exhibit which tells the story of the site, and of the people whom it commemorates. The small but dedicated staff are helpful, and offer educational programmes as well as general visitor information.

While the memorial site itself does not take long to see, it does offer a more enduring opportunity for reflection.   This is another “must visit” site for its ability to remind us of our past and potential failings as a species, but also for the chance to reflect and to improve.  As a “must visit” site, allow yourself time to take it in and not merely glance (which is easy owing to its size).  Time should also be given for the museum, it too while small, delivers “above its weight” in information and impact.


Dealing with Critique

People love to be loved. We crave acceptance. So, when we are confronted with criticism our instinct is to run away or to rise to the attack.  But it doesn’t need to be so.  Winston Churchill observed,  “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.  It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

In fact, being given constructive feedback helps us to grow.  Praise for positives is well and good.  It lets us know we are on track, allowing us to become secure in what we have already achieved.  However, the calling of our attention to weaknesses shows us where to improve.  It stops stagnation.

Bill Gates has said, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” So, growth and improvement may not be comfortable, just think of puberty, but they are desirable.

When we receive critiques, therefore, take them not as attacks, but as nurture.  Analyse them for what is useful.  Apply the lessons, avoid the repeating of mistakes.  Think about it, if no one ever told you 6 x 5 wasn’t 28 we might have real problems with your architectural plans you give us.

Churchill’s observation (cited above) is enlightening.  This British wartime hero, and leader of his people once received a school report which read, “He is so regular in his irregularity that I really don’t know what to do. He had such good abilities but these would be made useless by habitual negligence. Constantly late for school, losing his books and papers and various other things.”  He took it to heart, he grew from it.  So can we.


Sell Attention!

Throughout our school careers and beyond, many of us have been exhorted to “pay attention.” As leaders and speakers, however, it is our task to “sell attention.” Your audiences’ time and concentration needs to be earned, not just assumed.

So how do we “sell attention?”

One way to draw your hearers’ attention is by using mini or micro changes to our presentation. This can easily be done by the use of silence (as we have noted in previous posts) as they capture the idea that “something is happening,” or is about to.
Mixing up delivery style is also an attention grabber. Throwing in a short story or anecdote to illustrate a point, not only enriches your content, but it works as a hook to people’s interest, as we are “wired” to respond to stories.

You can also break up the “monotony” (figuratively speaking) of a longer presentation by not only sectioning it into bite sized subtopics, but by making the subtopics clear. This can be done by flagging the transitions. Remember in doing this, however, that markers such as “firstly,” “secondly,” etc. can become boring as well. More imaginative approaches include illustrative examples, “Gandhi’s approach to this was . . . . “Followed by “And then there was the time when John Kennedy . . . .”

The use of visual aids or short videos can also add a spark, and even a short clip, or a single prop can draw a hearer back to your main message.

So when selling attention, go for the little changes in pace, style, and inflection. Mix this up with clear transitions, and enhancing examples, and they will be clamouring to “pay attention.”



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Thank You

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I remember a Bible class teacher, years ago, saying, “Thank God for everything you couldn’t do without tomorrow.” That is a big order.  “Thank you for my wife, thank you for my life, thank you for food, thank you for air . . . . “If we are honest such a list is endless.  But where do we in practical consideration draw the line?

In Muslim tradition, God instructed Muhammad and his followers to pray 50 times a day, but on meeting Moses and discussing the matter, Muhammad returned to God to ask for a reduction.  As a matter of practical consideration the figure of five was arrived at.  While a non-biblical story, it does say much of human nature.  “But God, we need to live, and get on with life, how can we be always praying?”  It hints of a reflection cited by preachers and others of people being “So heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.”  Surely there is an answer here.  Where is the balance?

As matter of personal reflection, it seems that the answer is not all about formal prayers (folded hands and on one’s knees) but of a prayerful, thankful appreciation of what God has provided us.  He is the giver of life, the preserver of life, and the bringer of salvation.  We can be thankful for that, without needing to give an itemised list.  This is not to say that the occasional mention of particular thanks is inappropriate. In fact, for some things (family, home, health) frequent thanksgiving is very appropriate.  But in the end, we stay in constant communication with our Lord.  Thanks is part of that.  I Thessalonians 5:18 reads, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In all circumstances, good – bad – and in between.  But also in all activities, formal prayer, passing thoughts addressed to God, when even quick thank you-s as the events of our days pass by.  “Pray without ceasing” is all about attitude.

Thank you, Lord, you have given us so much!


Rhyme and Cadence, Cadence and Rhyme

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The English language is full of rhythms, cadences, and rhymes. These fluctuate with dialect and region, and the variety is truly rich. Whether it is the upward lilt of sentence endings in Liverpool, or the stressing of penultimate syllables in Wales, our language is musical.

Rhyme adds to the music of our words. It need not be “poetry” to be poetic. As Louis MacNeice has observed, children have an innate ability to appreciate and apply rhythm and rhyme. What more proof do we need than the popularity and success of Dr Seuss? But as adults we lose a bit of the melodic is our speech. What a shame.

We can improve on this, however. We only need to think of the natural links of like-sounding words to literally “rejuvenate” (make young again) our speech. So where can we start – to recapture this art? To be fair, just look here or there, for useful rhymes are everywhere. Try it try, and you will see, that rhymes and rhythm come easily.