accommodation in action

I had this fantastic conversation in a shop this morning. The assistant came up saying, as if straight out of the North of England, “Alright love?” With [w] or [ʋ] for /r/ and a definite [ʊ] in love.

I said, “Do you have any liquorice?” With, it transpires, a serious [ɾ] for the /r/. (I needed to ask – really wasn’t interested in Bassett’s.)

He immediately switched and said, “Liquo[ɾ]ice?” Precisely as I’d said it. “Have a look over here.”

And was impeccably Scottish from then on.

So: well-adjusted Anglo? or Scot who just expected shoppers to be English?


sing psalms

The Free Church is a force for good in Scotland. There can’t be many Free Presbyterians who don’t have dear friends and relatives in the Free Church, and even if our official and publicly displayed attitude to the Free Church is one of frowns and disapproval, there are still plenty people who respect the Free Church, value the Free Church’s testimony, appreciate the fellowship of believers in the Free Church, and wish the Free Church well. There are some of us who, on seeing a negative comment in the magazine, cry a little bit inside every time. We share the same fathers of the Scottish Reformation, we honour the Disruption testimony, we are grateful for every point of agreement in doctrine and every point of agreement in practice.

Right now, the Free Church is being featured in the news, both secular and Christian, for raising the issue of whether to continue with the practice of singing only inspired materials of praise unaccompanied by musical instruments, or whether to allow uninspired materials and/or musical accompaniment in addition.

The historical reasons in favour of the status quo are shared and endorsed by Free Presbyterians, who sing psalms only, a cappella. We sing the Psalms, because that’s what the Book of Psalms is for, and we don’t use instrumental accompaniment, because we have no mandate for it. This is consistent with scripture; it is required by scripture; it imposes nothing on the conscience of worshippers but what the scriptures allow; it is borne out by centuries of practice in the New Testament Church; it was the universal position of the Scottish Church at the Reformation and for hundreds of years thereafter; it is built into the ordination vows of our office-bearers. It is, in short, a warm-hearted commitment to  purity of worship. We are thankful to share this with the Free Church.

Needless to say, the general reaction to the hot news of the Free Church’s exploration of the worship issue is one of mass incomprehension – even among the Christian commentariat. Thus wild criticism comes from those who think that the practice is Hebridean, that it’s unbearably old-fashioned, that including uninspired hymns is a modernisation essential to the survival of a denomination, and that restricting yourself to the Psalms means you won’t be singing about Jesus. All of this is pitifully wrong (and when delivered in tones of scorn, says quite a lot about contemporary commentators’ grasp of the issues and disregard for what, even if quaint, is still a perfectly respectable Christian tradition in its own right; yes, trendy popular postmodern evangelical blogger who graciously spent some time in a Highland congregation and speaks from vast experience, I’m looking at you).

By having this debate, people in the Free Church have the opportunity to rediscover or reaffirm the principles involved. It’s not a question of clinging resolutely to outdated and offputting worship styles: anyone who prefers the unaccompanied singing of untutored congregations as an aesthetic choice is wide open to criticism; anyone who prefers it as an expression of cultural heritage is verging on the patronising and missing the scriptural point. If the Free Church doesn’t know why they exclusively sing inspired songs a cappella, there could be an argument that they might as well abandon it. But a return to the whole-hearted conviction that our historic practice truly equips us with what we are to praise with and how we are to praise would be an excellent step forward for the Free Church and the wider Church more generally.

O come, let us joyfully sing to the Lord;

To the Rock of salvation let us raise our voice.

Let us come before him expressing our thanks;

Let us with loud singing praise him and rejoice.

Colin Hansen eat your heart out

This latest from Seraphic is too perfect. Gotholic. It’s even funnier after reading Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. Journalistic for its own sake, pitched at secular audiences who couldn’t care less, reducing everything to superficial sociological observation, resolutely noncommittal on the doctrinal/practical rights and wrongs. Brilliant.

still waiting

I wish I could offer something insightful on the election, but any hope of that was lost after I stayed up all night watching the results come in and would have been slender anyway. Now we can only wait and see. We’re better off with Labour out, although jubilant crowds cheering on the streets were noticeable by their absence as Cameron’s Conservatives failed to sweep triumphantly into Downing Street. Now, while nobody wants PR and absolutely nobody wants to bother educating themselves on the pros and cons of any other alternative system, some sort of exploration of the options for electoral reform or, more generally, shifting the balance of power towards the people, can only be a good thing. Waiting for a Prime Minister: if this is what it would be like with PR, no thanks, although it’s a great mercy that Cameron and Clegg’s negotiating teams are taking their time, and out of the press’s eye.

there was no argument

This observation from the first page of Isobel Kuhn’s By Searching could have been written yesterday:

Brought up in an earnest Presbyterian home (my grandfather was a Presbyterian minister and my father an ardent lay preacher), I had been carefully coached in the refutations of modernism before my parents had allowed me to enter the University. If it had been a case of arguing the claims of modernism v. fundamentalism, I do not think I would have been shattered in my faith. But there was no argument. There was just the pitying sneer, “Oh, you just believe that because your papa and your mama told you so,” and then the confident assumption that no persons nowadays who thought for themselves, who were scientific in their approach to life, believed that old story any more.

She’s talking about the 1920s, but hordes of well-informed young people from Christian homes are still experiencing exactly the same situation. Isobel Kuhn was evidently shaken enough by the sneer that she gave up almost everything that she knew from her background in a Christian home, and it’s the same still. There are no toeholds in the smooth facade of the secular, hedonistic, modern or postmodern worldview that the Christian can readily make use of, whether the side they’re exposed to is everyday TV or university lectures or workplace mores or anything else. Its foundations, even more critically, are very rarely on public display. There is no argument. People whose attachment to Christianity is weak or immature, or only nominal, may well find themselves (consciously or unconsciously) taking the path of least resistance, ducking away from the ridicule and incomprehension that generally attends belief in anything as orthodox as heaven and hell (as it was in Kuhn’s anecdote), and capitulating to some extent or another, in belief, or practice, or both.

Isobel Kuhn spent several years as an agnostic, before being gradually won back to belief in the prayer-hearing God of the Bible (which in her case eventually developed into an increasing devotion of herself to mission work, first locally and then overseas). This doesn’t always happen, we know only too well. Our neighbourhoods are chock full of people who loyally went to church until they left home and now never look at the bible, never pray, never think about going to church. Most of them, if you asked them, would be perfectly capable of explaining what the bible teaches on heaven and hell and the way of salvation, and why they’re not atheists. But there is no argument, and so they go on – good, decent people, who would be mortified at the thought of being seen dead in church, and yet know perfectly well that if it’s a case of arguing the claims, faith doesn’t come remotely close to being shattered.