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Van Peebles Land

Only the rich can wear gold, but anyone can watch a sunset

Updated: 2018-02-16T17:45:05.101+00:00


Luke 13 - Repentance and Rejoicing


On Palm Sunday last year twin suicide bombings at St George’s Church in the Egyptian city of Tanta and at St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria left at least 45 dead and 126 injured.As we approach Easter and prepare to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Egyptian brothers and sisters will be about to mourn the first anniversary of the killings and maimings of their loved ones.They will also dread the thought that terrorists could strike again.Now, imagine if somebody in our fellowship today suggested that we fly out as a congregation to join them in worship this Easter as an act of solidarity. How would you feel? Would you be frightened at the thought of walking into a danger zone?For Jesus and the disciples, Jerusalem was a place of peril.In Luke 13 we read of how people told him about “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices”.This might have been a well-intentioned warning. Jesus came from Galilee, the province in which you find Nazareth and Capernaum. He was about to go with his disciples to Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, for the Passover.When his followers heard that this Roman prefect had massacred fellow Galileans and then committed the blasphemous act of mixing their blood with the sacrifices, perhaps they wondered if making this pilgrimage was too dangerous an enterprise.But Jesus’ response is to warn that such immediate and fatal disaster can come upon anyone.He says:Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2-3, ESV)Jesus stamps on the idea that there was anything particularly bad about these people. They were ordinary individuals, just like you or me, when their lives came to a sudden end.Rather than condemning Pilate’s utterly corrupt regime, he put the focus on those standing around him. He warns that they need to repent or they will “likewise perish”.In other words, his audience is in danger of imminent and terrible disaster.He continues:Or those 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13: 4-5, ESV)Jesus’ words have a double resonance.They are of direct and immediate relevance to his fellow Hebrew people. He stood among them as their Messiah, their true king, but he was not the anti-Roman revolutionary the Zealots wanted.He knows that it will end in calamity when they go ahead with a violent overthrow of the occupying forces. Rebels did win control of Jerusalem but in AD 70 the Romans besieged the city, stormed its defences, brought the Temple bricks tumbling down and massacred and enslaved the population.You can go to Rome today and see the Arch of Titus, which celebrates the looting of the Temple.Jesus, this preacher of a radical message of love for neighbours and enemies alike, knows that destruction is just decades away. Doubtless, he wants his people to be spared the coming slaughter.He tells them they must “repent”, which translates as much more than saying “sorry”. It involves a complete change of thinking; it implies an utter abandonment of old ways of living and a transfer of allegiances.Jesus’ words continue to resonate with a special power. The message he proclaimed during his short ministry was not just directed at his countrymen and women; for 20 centuries his warnings and promises have pierced the hearts of people throughout the world with the power of his Holy Spirit.At the very end of this Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that Scripture promises that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”. (Luke 24:47, ESV)Reports of massacres at religious sites and deaths from collapsing towers are especially vivid today, when brothers and sisters are routinely attacked in churches. Those of us who were alive in 2001 will never [...]

Richard and Laura's Theatre


The Castle of Innocence and Experience


The Films I've Seen in 2017


Happy Christmas!Graded out of five, here are the films I've seen this year in chronological order. There are similar lists for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.Ex Machina ****A friend went with a buddy to a restaurant near a cinema and a waiter was so excited by Ex Machina that he bounded over and told them to go see it. It is a film that gets people talking - and thinking.This is a science fiction story for grown-ups which features excellent performances, interesting ideas and masterfully engineered tension. The plot centres on an internet billionaire intent on perfecting a robot indistinguishable from a human, but the real drama hinges on the relationship between the mogul and the young employee he summons to his wilderness retreat.Big Eyes ***I regularly make the argument to long-suffering friends that Amy Adams is the Robert de Niro of our generation. There was a time when you could go take a vow to only watch De Niro movies yet enjoy an oeuvre as varied and satisfying as Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, New York, New York and The King of Comedy.If you only watched films starring Amy Adams you would see works as distinct as the ridiculously entertaining musical Enchanted, the brilliant celebration of food and marriage, Julie and Julia, my favourite boxing drama, The Fighter, the excellent exploration of intimacy, Her, the extraordinary science fiction epic Arrival and the gripping Nocturnal Animals.Big Eyes, the true story of a painter whose husband took the credit for her works, is a perfectly acceptable biopic and a pleasant enough item in her canon but not much more than that.Drinking Buddies *****This little-seen film set around a craft beer brewery in Chicago is an utter gem. It’s a clever, frank, wise and warm portrayal of friendship, romance and states inbetween.Like a great book, this film features lines and scenarios we instantly recognise from real life but have never seen portrayed in fiction before. The decisions the characters have to make could have big consequences for the rest of their lives but the film never swings into histrionic melodrama; instead, there is rich humour, delightful company and a dash of forgiveness.La-La land ****The most spectacular musical to emerge from Hollywood in recent times has sequences which are absolutely joyous. If Golden Age musicals helped audiences get through the Great Depression, La-La Land shows that the spectacle of singing and dancing on screen can cheer today’s audiences and help them forget about whatever turbulence swirls outside the cinema.The middle act is an indie-film sandwiched between the glorious sets of sequences that open and close the movie and, perhaps inevitably, it sags. You find yourself wondering if Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s characters (a struggling jazz musician and an aspiring actor) are really that sympathetic or their story worthy of this epic production, but all is forgiven once the showtunes kick in again.  Logan ****It should come as no surprise that a story about a werewolf set in the very near future is not one for the squeamish among us. Yes, it takes place in a comic book universe but this is a dark tale with plenty of moments to make you flinch.Thankfully, this contemporary myth is also a labour of love for the director and the stars and there is real pathos and passion.The Drop ****This is much more than a crime thriller. It centres on a heist at Brooklyn bar owned by mobsters but it’s also a tale about ageing and ambition as well as a tender cross-cultural romance and a human drama with a Tabasco-strength twist.James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy excel as barkeepers who have kegs’ worth of secrets between them. It’s a Dennis Lehane adaptation but there are currents of Arthur Miller in this superbly concise drama, which also features a charming dog.Sicario ****This depiction of a CIA-backed attempt to topple a narcotics kingpin reaches John Le Carré-depths of amorality. Director Denis Vil[...]

The Baldwin Centre in Seville


Jeremy's Castle


The Source of the Music


The Castle of the New Venetians


A New Spring


My kindergarten was located in a very dubious, now-demolished hall on the edge of a mini-roundabout in Portstewart.My magical niece spends time with her friends in an altogether wonderful nursery with its own orchard.It's very convenient that she lives not far from Ali's parents, who live opposite the grounds of a boarding school.You wander by the river at dusk and you see swans and monkjacks.As part of the celebration of a significant birthday we swung by the marvelous Wisley gardens.There is an art to nature more powerful than anything conceived by human imagination.In the curl of the leaves there's the pirouette of a ballerina.A bud unfolds and a horizon opens.It's as if there are messages here from another world.I got particularly excited by the cactus section.These are masterpieces of engineering, and what form accompanies the function!Sometimes nature makes a fist.It was a terrific day at somewhere I'd never have thought to visit before I met Ali.I guess we are all part of this great pageant of creation.[...]

An Irish Journey


Dad, Ali and I visited wonderful friends of many decades who live within sight of these mountains.Their garden has a tunnel of laburnum.We went for a scramble up one of the hills.There was a delightful breeze that hid the strength of the sun.We said our fond goodbyes and drove into the north and around the coast.There's a tranquility here which reaches your core within moments of scrambling to the water's edge.We continued round to Carnlough.At this time of year the sky stays light deep into the night.The hills were rich with hawthorn.Round by Glenariff, there was a enthralling milkiness to the horizon.As we climbed higher it was easy to believe that Scotland is just a few miles across the water.The coast is like a grand canyon filled with saltwater. I've never seen so many buttercups in Coleraine.The grass was lush and the shadows long.There was just the chop-chop-chop of one of the many wind turbines.I used to make films in these fields. Now it would be hard to line up a shot that didn't have one of these towering windmills in sight.But I'm not complaining. I love this territory.It calls me home.[...]

Rambling around Ramster Park


Perfect weather graced London on Saturday, just as Ali learned of a glorious garden at a spot in Surrey known as Ramster Park. We made our way there and had a very fine coffee before heading off in search of the 'bog garden'.This was like a Jurassic Park where all the attention has gone into the horticulture rather than reviving dinosaurs. The sensation of warm sunlight was as enlivening as the sight of these colours.I'm going through a phase of trying to photograph absolutely minute flowers... There was something fantastic at every turn, but it wasn't too crowded and it felt much more relaxed than many an English garden.I'd been listening to a podcast that morning about the making of the original Alien and some of the greenery looked like life forms from another planet.There were fantastic, secluded spots to sit around many a corner. It was something like an Ewok village. These flowers are just symphonic. They have a Kandinsky quality.While this is like a swirling octopus.There was just so much to see.It's like nature's jewelry.And then you find an oak which fills your entire field of vision.That's the glory of a great garden, the majestic and the miniature.There was a wedding going on somewhere on the estate. They had the perfect day for it.You could imagine Monet capturing this if he had gone wandering in the English countryside.These were on the bank of the pond.  Absolutely tiny... As were these.There are times when nature is like a firework display or the sound of trumpets.This garden was a pyrotechnic opera.[...]

The Castle of Monte Baldo


The Castle of Rebuilding


The Jazz Castle


My Brother's Castle


A Spring in Our Step in a Donegal February


A while ago I had a significant birthday and to celebrate Dad took Ali and me to Donegal this month.We spent a night in this marvelous place which could be the setting for multiple Agatha Christie country house mysteries.Think roaring fires and ominous strikes from a grandfather clock. A perfect place for a butler to do something.After breakfast we went for an explore northwards.I loved the painted signs in Rathmelton.A little further up the coast, at Rathmullan, a butcher walked out of his shop with (I presume) his grandson in his arms and started feeding the seagulls.Within moments there was a hurricane of gulls.Your feet crunched on the beach which seemed to consist entirely of shells.Nearby is the remains of a friary that was built in 1516.The joy of Donegal is that when you get even the slightest flash of sunlight this sometimes bleak county glows with Caneletto colours.Ali and Dad were very tolerant of me stopping to photograph lobster cages...A curious pony...And every twist of of this mesmerising coastline.The question on such a journey is when you decide to turn around and head home.In Donegal you keep heading into the wilds because there is the lure of finding out what's around the next corner.We made it back to Coleraine and the next day we connected with my lovely sister and her wonderful family in Portstewart.I was a little dubious when I heard about a new coffee shop called Three Kings. It sounded like a very hipster joint, sort of Shoreditch by the Sea - but it was an Aladdin's Cave of baking genius that would make Mary Berry swoon.Portstewart's harbour was built to protect fishing boats from wild storms.There's a special peace I find in this part of the worldIt's there at the Agivey Bridge. It's above a motorway of water that once carried Vikings and Normans. You find a solitude in this countryside but also the sense of centuries of footprints.(Actually, there was also a fair bit of traffic and rather a lot of litter and a high chance of rain, so Dad and I went round the coast to Ballintoy Harbour.The clouds parted for about 10 minutes and the coves sparkled. We had a fine cup of tea and talked to a man who used to work in the Coleraine cheese factory.My granddad's coat is one of my favourite possessions. It's gone around the world with me.It would soon be dark and we headed home.The giant willow tree outside the house has been pruned of some of the branches that were in danger of coming down in the next big storm. This means we have plenty of firewood.There's such a beauty to the moss and the sap catches the light. Outside, the snowdrops reminded us that this winter will soon pass and a season of great colours is coming.[...]

The Castle of the Pastures


The Boulevard of the Midnight Sun


The Castle of a Glorious Morning


The Castle of Gold Hill


The Christmas Castle 2016


The Films I've Seen in 2016


Hello! In chronological order, here are the films I've watched (graded out of five) in 2016. There are similar lists for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.Joy ****I had no interest in seeing a film about someone who makes a fortune selling mops on a shopping channel. But I was very interested in seeing the latest film by David O Russell, a director with a track record of eliciting fantastic performances from great actors, often with an incendiary juxtaposition of startling images and rollicking music. This movie has heart and soul.An Education ***.5Alison had just read the Lynn Barber memoir upon which this is based, and it's a fascinating coming of age story; it's not so much a tale of loss of innocence (although a teenage romance with an older conman will inevitably involve that) but of the gaining of insights which will shape a writing life.The Big Short ****This is an entertaining primer on how greed and idiocy crashed the economy. A handful of people saw the cataclysm coming and made their own fortunes.Youth ****Paolo Sorrentino's story of composer Michael Caine and film director Harvey Keitel hanging out at an alpine spa doesn't quite hit the heights of his 2013's The Great Beauty but among its meditations are many moments to savour and it is ultimately an exploration of love and faithfulness.Mad Max: Fury Rd ***.5I reckon this is the tale of the Exodus in reverse. Having fled the rule of a mad tyrant, this tiny band stop their journey through the desert and turn back to topple the Pharaoh-figure. This is one of the most frenetic and visually inventive movies of recent times.Hail, Caesar! ***.5The Coen Brothers have immense fun with this story of a kidnapping during the shooting of a Biblical epic. Among the musical numbers and screwball banter there's a playful investigation of philosophy and theology and a comparison of ideas at the heart of Christianity and Marxism.Spotlight ****A new editor arrives at a Boston newspaper and the scene is set for a confrontation with the small investigative team. Instead, he liberates them to reveal how the city's most powerful institutions - including the media - refused to acknowledge and confront a culture of abuse. Risen ***The first half of this film is very interesting. A Roman officer is tasked with finding out what has happened to the body of Jesus as rumours of resurrection spread through Jerusalem.The direction seems less sure-footed when the officer then encounters Jesus and the disciples; the ascension resembles a Nasa shuttle launch. But the filmmakers deserve kudos for embracing the Easter story as a narrative in which a world of political and religious intrigue is blown apart by the resurrection.The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq ****This is France's answer to Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. The eponymous author is kidnapped by some brothers and (without giving too much away) they end up becoming great friends and for a few moments it looks as if Houellebecq may even have been cured of his existentialist ennui.Aloha ***This is famed as a box office bomb and it is not the finest film Cameron Crowe has ever shot - certainly not up there with Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous. But Crowe tells big stories of warmth and whimsy which do not follow the trajectories of normal blockbusters and this Hawaiian romp features delightful performances from five of the most charismatic actors alive today: Bradley Cooper, Emm[...]

Advent Castle 2016