Blair House: plans, dreams and pretty things

I wrote in my previous post about the field centre, Blair House. Long loved and now in my possession and awaiting refurbishment, I hope that next year it will buzz with children, scientists, old friends, new friends, discovering the beauty and biodiversity of Glen Doll.

There are many aspects to the refurbishment of Blair House. One is that after years of talking about such things, I want it to be an example of excellence of an environmentally-friendly building. But another thing is funding it.

Perhaps I should have anticipated this moment by spending years learning to be a crack environmental property developer, but I haven’t, I’ve been designing Christmas cards and historical maps and writing novels. Now it’s time to turn all that creativity to good account because these are all available to buy, and all proceeds will go towards Blair House. They’re only small amounts, but all the little contributions add up and begin to make all the difference between impossible and possible.

Ursula

If you have a Kindle, check out my new novel Ursula. It’s only £2.58, of which I receive about 70%, and it’s the best way you can support Blair House because I don’t have to do any work (eg posting it!), and because every sale boosts its Kindle ranking and thereby encourages others. Also, people seem to think it’s quite good. For example a slight literary acquaintance who wanted to support Blair House was surprised to discover it was “beautifully written and very funny” and (good heavens) his “book of the year”. Like me, Ursula is a bit difficult to categorise, you just have to read it and find out. I’d also be most grateful if you left a rating or review on Amazon.

Christmas Cards

I’ve always designed my own Christmas cards, and for the past ten years I’ve been designing them on commission and to sell, and now have around 25 designs here in my online Shop.

They are packed with references to Christmas carols, history, poetry, biodiversity and Edinburgh. There are angels dancing in San Gimignano, Father Walter Scott with mice, John Donne with a polar bear, Magi on bicycles, stained glass, choirs, spiders in santa hats, a whole series of very creative commissions featuring a spaniel, calligraphy, watercolour illustration, and Celtic and Medieval illumination. Each year there are a new designs, including this year one celebrating the conclusion of my PhD, featuring Christmas in Regency Edinburgh.

Have a browse.

Layers of Edinburgh

My final fundraiser is the historical map of Edinburgh’s Old Town I created in the year I decided to become a historian rather than an illustrator. It contains as much history, literature and pictorial jokes as I could possibly fit onto one A3 sheet of paper, folded into a postcard-size pocket-map. Can you follow the walking route? Can you find the unicorn? buy one — or to hell with it, buy five!

Blair House

Whether you like the look of Ursula, Christmas cards or Layers of Edinburgh, all these things will help to enable me to re-open Blair House as a warm and environmentally friendly field centre to inspire new generations in Glen Doll. Buy them – if you like them – and tell your friends. If you have questions or want larger quantities, Twitter @eleanormharris is always a good way to get hold of me, or email eleanormharris@gmail.com

Meterology, Alan Hemming, and Forgiveness

This guest post by medical ethicist and Church of Scotland minister Professor Kenneth Boyd was delivered as a sermon at Evensong last night. I have heard him preach many times before but this one seemed particularly worthy of a wider audience. I hope you agree.

‘Abundant rain’, promised by the prophet Joel in our first reading tonight, ‘poured down’ on Friday and much of yesterday, right on time, exactly as promised by the weather forecast on the BBC News website. The accuracy of modern weather forecasting, at least for the next few days, never ceases to amaze me. The science of weather forecasting, pioneered in 19th century Edinburgh by Alexander Buchan, Secretary of the Scottish Meteorological Society, has been of great benefit to humanity: it has saved countless lives by its warnings and it has assisted better planning of all sorts of future projects. It has of course limitations, as the forecasters themselves also warn: better and more accurate systems still need development to avoid tragedies like that on the Japanese volcano last week, or the fatal consequences of many of the extreme weather events increasingly related to climate change; but the scientific precision of modern meteorology is undoubtedly something to be grateful for; and an enormous advance, some might say, on the vague promises of ‘the early and the later rain as before’ uttered by the prophet Joel in our first reading tonight.

That said, it cannot escape notice that the scientific precision found in meteorology is also to be found in the science of ballistics, which is concerned with the launching, flight and exact landing of projectiles, and which at present therefore is of great relevance to the armed forces of our own and other nations who are pouring down a different kind of rain as they attack from the air the IS militants in Iraq and Syria. The historical and political reasons for this conflict are greatly complex and in their effects deeply tragic — not least this last week, in the murder of that truly good man Alan Hemming from Salford. But even deeper than the historical and political reasons for this conflict, is that darker side of human nature, against which the human goodness of Alan Hemming stands out in such contrast. The goodness of this ordinary man, simply desiring to help others in need, as he travelled with his Muslim friends, to convoy medical and food aid to refugees in Syrian camps — that goodness stands in stark contrast to the near madness of the desire at all costs to dominate and subjugate others, so cruelly and callously demonstrated by the words and actions of the IS militants. And that near madness in turn also stands in stark contrast to the rationality of the sciences which provide the weapons with which the rest of the world may be able, at least on the most optimistic scenario, to geographically contain that madness.

What these current events remind us of then, is what we still lack: a science of human nature and relationships, a science with which to guide the ballistics of the human heart into the ways of peace, justice and the gladness of which the prophet Joel spoke in our first reading, when the inhabitants of the land ’shall eat in plenty and be satisfied’. How long ago was that written? Nearly two thousand five hundred years ago; and yet after all that time, and even with the more recently rapid advance of so many sciences, the land of Israel and Palestine of which Joel spoke seems no nearer, and perhaps even farther away from that long deferred peace and plenty. Even now, we have no science of human nature and relationships, to put all these things right.

But is that correct? We do, of course, have what are called the human sciences, of psychology and social science for example, and also of historical research and political science; and all of these have important insights to contribute to our understanding of human nature and relationships, insights based on non-partisan analyses, which if we attend to them may help us see through the more extravagant and unsubstantiated claims of politics, the market, ideologies and religions. But of themselves these analytic insights may not be enough to guide us and the world to a better place of peace and justice. As well as these scientific insights, we need a science of a deeper and less academic sort: the word ‘science’ at root simply means knowledge, and the kind of knowledge we need is self-knowledge – which is precisely what our second reading tonight tells us about.

‘Do not worry about your life’ Jesus says, but ‘strive first for the kingdom of God’. What does this mean and is it even possible? To get a sense of what Jesus meant, I think, we need to remember that he also is quoted as saying that the kingdom he spoke of was not a visible earthly kingdom, and that it was ‘within you’ and ‘among you’. The kingdom of God, in other words, is a way of living with and relating to one another and ourselves. It is a way of living and relating that is not disturbed and disfigured by fears and anxieties, especially those fears and anxieties that derive from seeing and valuing everything and everyone mainly or even only from our own point of view. Defending at all costs our own interests as we conceive them, and maintaining at all costs our own self-image, can lead to a very untruthful view of the world, since clearly there are other people in it. And if we find means of power over others, either as petty domestic or workplace tyrants, or as IS militants, we may become infected in different degrees by that near madness I mentioned earlier – the near madness of a secret desire to assuage our own fears and compensate for our own inadequacies by trying at all costs to dominate and subjugate others.

How is the kingdom of God different? Above all because it is the kingdom of forgiveness — a way of living with and relating to one another and ourselves that frees us from the need to maintain those appearances that can lead us into the absurdities of pride or the depths of despair — a way of living and relating that humbly and happily accepts that we are all in this together: God-forgiven first, and then slowly self-forgiven sinners, but thereby also given strength enough and courage enough to get through and wherever possible get over whatever causes our current fears and anxieties.

To strive for the kingdom of God is to strive against all those self-deluding and defensive reactions, moods and habits which render our view of the world untruthful — to strive against them, above all by holding fast to a deeply felt conviction that living goodness is at the heart of all things, including the human heart of each one of us, and that even our smallest efforts to love our neighbour as ourselves contribute to the coming of the kingdom, on earth as in heaven.

That may still seem a small thing in the great scheme of things, on the war-torn littered beaches of the world, where ignorant armies clash by night. And it will still be the task of generations well beyond our own to enter more deeply into that conversation and communion of faiths which also is needed to contribute, in global terms, to the coming of the kingdom, on earth as in heaven. But the kingdom of God and forgiveness, Jesus says, always is now open to us to strive for; and if we do that, striving for the kingdom of God each in our own different and particular way, as Alan Hemming from Salford did in his, with his Muslim friends, that will be our best way of paying tribute to him and to all the saints of God, who have fallen, fighting the good fight of faith and forgiveness. May they rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Professor Kenneth Boyd. Sermon delivered at Evensong in St John’s Episcopal Church Edinburgh on the 16th after Trinity. Readings Joel 2, 21-27; Matthew 6, 25-33.

Friends of the Earth calls on Scotland to ban fracking

After a week in which fracking became a political football in the post-indyref constitutional fallout, Friends of the Earth Scotland have stepped out of the politics to ask people to email their MSP demanding that Holyrood use its existing, sufficient, powers to ban fracking in Scotland outright. You can participate here.

I know I have a rainbow readership of nationalists and internationalists, devolutionists, independents and British-constitution-revivers, environmentalists and business people; but I can think of few of you who would disagree on this issue, for the reasons I allude to below. There are few of you who would fail to join the opposition to fracking for any reason other than a apathetic sense that it probably wouldn’t work.

If you all think that, it won’t. But you won’t, because that’s not how people are thinking any more.

The Friends of the Earth Scotland action page automatically addresses your email to your MSPs when you put in your postcode; but I decided their draft text read a bit like those intercessions we have at church which explain the issues to God as if he didn’t know, so I wrote my own, with a bit more stirring rhetoric. Feel free to pinch any of it.

Dear Jim Eadie/ Neil Findlay/ Cameron Buchanan/ Sarah Boyack/ Alison Johnstone/ Kezia Dugdale/ Gavin Brown,

You are well aware of the complex issues surrounding shale gas extraction: of the imperative need to eliminate climate-changing carbon emissions from all kinds of fossil fuel, of the profound and unclear local environmental impact of this new technology, of the potential for an easy solution to badly pressing financial and energy supply problems, of the extent to which fracking has become a political football in UK constitutional debates, and of the overwhelming public opposition to fracking.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to set aside the pressures from all sides and to do what I’m sure you, like the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, know what is right: to use the powers Holyrood already has to ban this destructive, short-term, cynical practice outright. There are other, better solutions to energy shortages and budget deficits, and I, for one, will do all I can to support realistic solutions to these real problems.

A ban on fracking will reflect well on the Scottish government, will cause Scotland to be celebrated around the world, and will have tremendous popularity amongst the Scottish people from across the political spectrum. I believe it will also be good for the Scottish economy in guaranteeing the integrity, literally, of the central belt, and in generating demand for creative renewable energy generation, which tends to create local jobs.

I look forward to your response, and to hearing of your participation in cross-party legislation that will ensure no-one in Scotland need ever be frightened of fracking again.

Best wishes,

Eleanor Harris

Do it.