Minister’s Blog

23 March 2019

The snowdrops are dead but they have lived among us so hopefully for three months. The crocus blossomed brightly  in our wintry desert but not for long. The daffodils are early and blooming in profusion.

I saw a broken egg-shell on the path down to the Preston Mill. The pigeons are ahead of the game producing young every month of the year! The pussy willows are out confirming the health and well-being of the willows on the banks of the Tyne.

The mill wheel is silent and still. It doesn’t look very healthy. One of the wooden blades has broken off. A lot of moss has attached itself to some of the others. Apparently, the mechanism which allows the wheel to turn broke over the winter.

The National Trust has created a crowdfunder page to raise the £12,000 required to fund it. A substantial donation has been promised by an American fan of ‘Outlander’ which was filmed at Preston Mill in 2014! The goal has almost been achieved.

I didn’t hear about this initiative until I read about the American’s  donation in the local paper. Whilst it’s good that people all over the world contribute to these things, framing the initiative by a TV series fails to recognise the mill’s historic place within the corporate memory of our community.

Winter gives way to Spring. Flowers blossom and trees bud. The birds sing early morning songs to their lovers, build nests and fledge their young.  ‘Outlander’ will fade from the world’s memory but the community will still be here watching and waiting as it has done for three hundred years whilst the mill wheel turns and turns again.

Minister’s Blog

22 March 2019

Apparently, St.  Patrick lived between the recitation of two prayers. The first was Kyrie Eleison, the Greek for ‘Lord have mercy!’ And the other was Deo Gratias, the Latin for ‘Thanks be to God!’ The latter was given to him as a child by his father.

It is in this hidden corner of the universe that we will find fullness of life – the place between our confession and the forgiveness of God and a spirit of gratitude which  eternally rejoices in what God has done for us not least in Christ.

Strangely enough, confession and gratitude are both liberating disciplines. They  take us out of ourselves and enable us to see the world anew. This is where our freedom is to be found. The one leads to a fresh start and the other secures our joy!

Minister’s Blog

21 March 2019

Today I raise the question about the politicisation of children not least in the recent protest at the Scottish Parliament about the serious risks to our planet caused by our excessive behaviour generated by a more luxurious lifestyle.

Some people were concerned that children were deliberately missing school. It is a legal requirement that parents ensure that their children attend. To take them off school without  good reason is to break the law.

The  protest about Climate Change benefitted from this. It was surely much more exciting to break the law and protest about Climate Change than to miss your swimming lesson and rugby game on Saturday morning instead!

Because I have worked with young people in Primary and Secondary Schools throughout my whole ministry, it does not come as a surprise that young people are concerned about the earth.

They have received a good education and it has largely been down to our schools that they are so fine-tuned to the issues involved. From a personal point of view, I admire their concern and their action. It is Scriptural. ‘A little child shall lead them.’

However, Primary School children cannot make these protests without the support of their parents. To what extent is the child’s protest free from undue parental influence? And is it appropriate that a childhood should be shaped in this political way?

Politics is a messy business. As we have seen to our cost recently. It is accompanied by worry and fear, ruthlessness and division, animosity and stress. Is it an environment to which children should be exposed in such an immediate way?

Minister’s Blog

20 March 2019

When the girls at the J-Team started singing an old skipping rhyme, I was intrigued. For you don’t see girls out with their skipping ropes very much nor boys kicking footballs against the gable end.

Research by the National Trust has shown that children now play outside for just over four hours a week! Their parents who are much younger than me played outside for twice as long.

The researchers comment that even they were beginning to retreat indoors. Nowadays children spend far more time on their screens – television and computer. And have essentially lost the freedom of the street and hill.

Two things have happened. The first is that parents have become too intrusive and spend far too much time organising their children’s lives. If they are not present, another responsible adult is drawn in. More often than not, a grandparent.

The second is that children suffer from a surfeit of things which are bought to entertain and stimulate them. They are all external. They do not come from within. Once again, the inner life is unacknowledged and even neglected.

Minister’s Blog

19 March 2019

Apparently, there is no documented history of North America from 1542-1682. Whilst there is some recorded activity on the coast nothing is known about what went on in the interior of this huge continent. Silence prevails.

At that time, the country was populated by Indians whom some suspect were struggling against the changes which were brought about by the arrival of the conquistadors. Smallpox was one – and it probably dramatically reduced the population.

Far from remaining silent about our history during this period, we have a rich story to tell – the Scottish Reformation, the Union of the Crowns, the translation of the Authorised Version of the Bible, the publication of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the beheading of the king ….

Looking at the blank pages in its history is even more astonishing when you think about what has been achieved in the USA since their history began to be recorded. But there is something attractive about the silence.

For although the great historical events have shaped our past, inspired our present and mapped out our future, the history which is not recorded has its own significance too. The hidden generosity, an act of forgiveness, the  second chance, a job well done are worthy of our commendation even though they are forgotten forever!

Minister’s Blog

18 March 2019

On reading the book of Joshua again, I was intrigued by the reference to the sun stopping in mid-heaven. It is a little text which has had a big history for it has been used to support Aristotle’s view that the sun revolved around the earth.

This geocentric view of the universe survived unchallenged for almost two millennia. It seems strange that something which is evidently mistaken could be supported for so long. Two things helped.

Firstly, to all intents and purposes, the earth didn’t appear to move. It seemed to be stationary. Secondly, the sun appeared to move around the earth for its position changes with every passing hour.

Although the Hebrew says that the sun stopped, there are two ways of extending this. On the one hand, the sun may have stopped moving or the sun may have stopped shining. If the latter is true, we have the earliest recorded solar eclipse in history!

Minister’s Blog

17 March 2019

I cannot deny it. There are some difficult chunks of Scripture which are not easily read. Our reading group found that out especially in Leviticus and Numbers. There are some hard questions raised about the nature of God, his punitive and sometimes violent actions.

This is the Old Testament which not only provides a solid foundation for the New but also a foil for the glory of Christ’s gospel of grace. The Law was important to Jesus. He didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfil it. Logic is enriched by emotion. Law cannot stand on its own. Grace abounds.

Both Old and New are essential reading. Hence our project – and the project of the Scottish Bible Society which has pledged ‘to provide 600 million people with access to God’s Word in their heart language’.

We had the Renaissance and the keen interest in learning other languages and translating texts from one language into another. We had the extraordinary missionary endeavour of the nineteenth century and the goal to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

We had the twentieth century with its enormous advancements in technology – and still there are 600 million people in the world who do not have access to the Word of God in their native tongue. And astonishingly, there are 3,988 languages for which there are no written scriptures!

Of course, the provision of Bibles is one thing, reading them and understanding the words they contain is quite another. Just look at Scotland. We used to be called ‘The People of the Book’. Which book? People may readily ask that now. The book of life, life in all its fullness!

Minister’s Blog

16 March 2019

In reading about the Judges, we are excited to meet up with the greats again – Samson, Gideon and Jephthah.  But what struck me were the other lesser known judges whose record is not so dramatic nor awesome. People like Jair of whom it is said:

‘Abimelek was followed by Jair of Gilead, who led Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys. They controlled thirty towns in Gilead, which to this day are called Havvoth Jair. When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon.’

It’s a lovely picture. Everything packaged in neat piles of thirty – thirty sons, thirty donkeys and thirty towns. Was he a perfect administrator? He certainly managed his remit in a very satisfactory and unobtrusive  way.

It was surely  a wonderful achievement to ensure twenty-two years of peace and clearly no bloodshed worthy of the record. Some people are feted for their work. Others ensure they aren’t forgotten because of the drama they create.

But isn’t there something to be said for the one who gets on with his work and does a good job without attracting any drama nor becoming a sensation, living peacefully and faithfully and ensuring that peace and faith are the blessings which befall everyone under their authority?

Minister’s Blog

15 March 2019

Our reading group has just finished  Joshua and Judges in our journey through the first third of the Old Testament. There is a lot of bloodshed and some of it initiated by God. People are driven out of the land. Thumbs and toes are cut off. Hailstones are sent to punish.

There are some strong women. The prophet, Deborah, commands Barak to lead his soldiers into battle. He isn’t so sure. ‘If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go!’ Was he a scaredy custard?

There was the enterprising woman who dropped a millstone on Abimelek’s head. He is ashamed of the circumstances surrounding his imminent demise. So he saves his honour with a quick word to his armour-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and kill me so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him!’’

And then there is Jael, famed for hammering a tent peg into Sisera’s temple. The coward had escaped the battlefield and sought hospitality in Jael’s house whilst his mother waits patiently looking out of her latticed window longing for the return of her beloved son.

Why is his chariot so long in coming?’ she asks. ‘Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’ You sense the disquieted heart, soon to be filled with grief, never to be consoled. But who is going to tell her of Sisera’s cowardice and death by a woman’s hand?

Minister’s Blog

14 March 2019

The Scottish Government are taking soundings about the right of parents to smack their children. The Free Church have defended smacking on Biblical grounds. The Church of Scotland have supported a ban on different Biblical grounds. They cancel each other out!

Although I smacked our children, inheriting this strategy for effective discipline from my parents, I regret it for three reasons. Firstly, it was unnecessary. There are plenty of alternative strategies which I did adopt as the children grew older.

Secondly, this strategy is built on fear – and that is not a good basis on which to build family life. God is love and love should be the dominant force within the environment of the home. There is no way to monitor the fearfulness this strategy generates.

Thirdly, the motivation for using this strategy is not always pure. If we could be rational all the time, we could be sure that the reason for smacking a child was entirely based on what the child had done.

However, there were times when I reflected on my actions and wondered whether my frustration or anger with the child was not contaminated by a frustration or anger I felt about what was going on in other areas of my life.

This reflection did temper my actions but I live with some regret. For when Hairy Smith was headteacher in Ardrishaig Primary School, he belted people regularly. But when Mr. Paterson followed him, he belted no-one. I loved his class and thrived on his love and respect.

Minister’s Blog

13 March 2019

I have been alerted to a lecture being given at the John Gray Centre in Haddington on the farmer and agriculturalist, Patrick Shirreff. I was grateful for the intimation since, unbeknown to me,  he was buried at Prestonkirk.

As it happens his gravestone is propped up against the south facing wall of Prestonkirk just to the right of the main door. The engraving has worn but on close inspection is easily read. This is what it says about Patrick:

‘Died at Haddington 16th December 1876 aged 85. He produced Hopetown Wheat and Oats and by his lifelong labours in selecting and crossing varieties of wheat, shewed how the food crops of the world might be improved and increased.’

In ‘The Prestonkirk Burial Ground Survey’, it also says that Patrick was ‘a keen greyhound courser and excellent fisherman’. His dog, ‘Simon’ won the Aberdeenshire Gold Cup in 1834! Clearly, there were additional benefits to the more nutritious cereal in the dog’s bowl!

Minister’s Blog

12 March 2019

This Lent, I suggest we do three things to strengthen our resistance to  whatever temptations come our way. The first is to nurture a greater humility. We are called to see ourselves as part of something much bigger than ourselves.  We are not the centre of his creation. We are loved by God but so is our enemy, the people who think and live differently. We all have fallen  short of the glory of God!

The second is to become more open to other people and to the changes which they may effect within us. Our actions may be good but what of their motivation. If our motivation was different would our actions be better. Would we then achieve the best result even if it isn’t what we would have wanted? Our best wisdom may be found in unexpected places and people. God will lead us there.

The third is to value the redemption which can only be effected by Christ. Is there any hope for someone who is born evil? The characterisation is likely to stymie any possibility that the love of God is deep enough and powerful enough to transform a murderer, a terrorist, a paedophile. Why should we put constraints on the power of God’s love to change hearts and to work his cure?

Minister’s Blog

11 March 2019

‘There is a lot of evil in our world.’ It’s a commonplace observation which usually follows the publicity of some unbelievable crime. People are  quick to make judgement and use the word evil as if to explain what has happened.

When Aaron Campbell was found guilty of abducting and murdering  six year old  Alesha MacPhail on the Island of Bute, the sixteen year old was immediately described as an evil monster who should rot in hell. Someone even suggested he was born evil.

When the British Government was asked to repatriate one of its own British citizens, the heavily pregnant Shamima Begum was immediately vilified in the press as an evil monster who had sold her soul to the Isis devil. Sajid Javid refused to allow her to return to her British home.

When Pope Francis met with a hundred and fifty senior bishops recently to discuss the scandal of child abuse perpetrated by priests and religious, he summed up the findings of the conference by talking about the ‘mystery of evil’  calling  the abusers ‘tools of Satan’.

How helpful is this language of ‘the evil monster’ and ‘the tools of Satan’? Does it actually help us to understand why a sixteen year old would commit such a vicious and barbaric crime? Or why a fifteen year old girl should be attracted to participate in acts of brutal terrorism perpetrated by Isis?

Or does it explain why so many priests and bishops have abused their power and the trust placed in them to perpetrate sexually motivated crimes against children? Or offer us some deeper understanding why twice as many paedophiles are to be found in the priesthood than in the population at large?

The language of evil, the devil and the monster is unhelpful for two reasons. Firstly, it estranges us from our common humanity. It fools us into thinking that the perpetrators of such crimes are not really human beings afterall and certainly not human beings like us.

Secondly, it removes the responsibility for such crimes from the person who perpetrates them  to some malign force which has influenced them almost  by chance thus turning the criminals into victims who are more to be pitied than vilified in our press!

Minister’s Blog

10 March 2019

I am not surprised that the number of Home Economics teachers has diminished to such an extent that a new initiative has been taken to recruit and train more. For quite some time, the school curriculum has been so pressurised that it became a Cinderella, gaining a reputation as a subject which was taken by less academically gifted young people.

Three strands of contemporary thought have come together to cast a sharp light on the value of the subject. Firstly, the extraordinary attraction of the celebrity chef and the value of being able to cook food in different ways even leading to a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Secondly, the realisation that we are what we eat and some of the things we have been eating like fat and sugar have not been very good for our physical and mental health. The increase in obesity levels exposes our need to know what is nutritious and what is not. This is science!

Thirdly, the growth in food banks and the need to teach people how to cook for less. It is not costly to make a bowl of porridge oats nor a plate of vegetable soup but it requires knowledge and experience to realise this.  The cookery class can help!

The contemporary world has introduced us to foods from many lands and offered us the opportunity to value different cultures. And all of this is related to the value of hospitality and making room in our world for people who are different.

Jesus knew the power of food and the wisdom of hospitality. Why else was he given names which are directly related to the kitchen. ‘I am the bread of Life. I am the True Vine. I am the living water.’ In Him, we have food for life and the opportunity to be fulfilled for aye.

Minister’s Blog

9 March 2019

Our younger daughter, Sarah, is a triathlete. Last year, she decided to get a new bike. At that level of competition, equipment is very important and she decided it was time to get an upgrade. It was going to be very expensive.

We decided to help out at which point Sarah upgraded her purchase even more! But it has proved to have been a real asset. The upgraded bike has taken over a minute off her race time. It made me wonder. If you had even more financial resources how much more time could you shave off?

Although the best bike in the world would not be any use to someone who couldn’t ride it properly, it is a definite advantage in the field of high achieving sports. It could make all the difference between the gold and the silver!

I have to say, it didn’t feel right that having a little bit more money should actually help in bringing glory to one athlete. Shouldn’t this advantage be available to everyone who performs. And what other secret advantages lie hidden in these sports’ fields?

It also made me see the value of much greater investment in sport especially amongst people who are financially disadvantaged. It is to our country’s benefit to ensure that people with ability and potential have the opportunity to develop and shine regardless of levels of wealth and income.

Minister’s Blog

8 March 2019

I visited the Nursery to teach the children some songs for our Pre-school Easter Celebration. I talked about the colours of Easter and we sang some songs. One of the colours was blue and was illustrated with a butterfly.

I asked the children where they would like to fly if they were a butterfly. Australia was the first. America the second. ‘A warm country like Africa!’ said a third. London followed. And then a child said simply, ‘Addiewell’.

‘Why would you like to fly to Addiewell?’ I asked. The child simply replied, ‘My granny lives there!’ What a proud granny she must be to have a grandchild who has found the secret of flight in angel wings!

Minister’s Blog

7 March 2019

Recently, Eunice Olumide  asked the Glasgow City Council to rename the streets in the Merchant City which bear the names of the tobacco lords and sugar plantation owners whose vast wealth has been built upon slavery. I don’t know what the city fathers (and mothers) will say about this proposal but I hope they will decide against it. Three reasons.

Firstly, to remove the names of Glassford and Ingram and all the rest is to erase a significant period of Scottish history which should never be forgotten. The names should resonate not with glory but with shame and be a constant reminder to all of us of the ugliness of our national past.

Secondly, to retain the street names is a constant reminder of the folly of our memorialisation. With the passage of time, the feet of clay are revealed for all to see. Our best memorial is the love which we have for family, friends and all those in need. This is the only memorial which lasts for as St. Paul says, ‘Love is eternal.’

Thirdly, the street names should be preserved as a living reminder of the complexity of human nature. There is good and bad in all of us.  The proportions of the mix may vary from one to the other but none of us is free from our personal sinfulness and our participation in the sinfulness of our communities and nations. Lent is a good time to reflect upon this!

Minister’s Blog

6 March 2019 – St. Baldred’s Day

Almighty God, we celebrate Your servant, Baldred of the Bass, who brought Christianity to this corner of Scotland.

By his Cradle, nurture our faith that we may be a cradle of Your love.

Around his Well, refresh us with the living water that Your life may spring up within us.

On his Rock, lead us to the place apart that through our prayer, we may draw others closer to You.

In his Kirk, where the Easter Gospel has been proclaimed for fourteen hundred years, lead us into new ways of thinking and living and being through Jesus Christ, our risen Saviour and Lord  – Amen

Minister’s Blog

5 March 2019

My heart sinks whenever I hear of congregations which have no children worshipping with them. It is a sure sign that things are in terminal decline. For if there are no children there won’t be many in their thirties and forties either!

Although the population of Stenton is some 300 and the village school has only twenty-one pupils, we have fourteen children on our roll for the J-team which meets on a Wednesday afternoon. This represents two-thirds of the school.

In addition, we have an elder at the kirk who works with any children who come along on a Sunday with a craft activity related to the theme of the service. On Sunday we had three children with us.

At the door, I was given a letter by one of them. The envelope was decorated with a hopeful rainbow and lots of sparkly colour. Inside, there was a brief note written in pencil, ‘Dear Rev Scott – I hope you have a lovely day at Stenton.’ And with this welcome blessing at the kirk door, I did!

Minister’s Blog

4 March 2019

Our daughter-in-law, Pamela, has been busy on a mural. It’s one of several murals commissioned by NCR Corporation which is based at Discovery House, Dundee. It’s an American company which began life producing the first mechanical cash registers after their invention in 1879!

Pamela’s mural  ‘celebrates the unique architecture and landmarks of Dundee’. On either side, you can see the two bridges and the river. In the centre, you can see the newly built, Victoria and Albert Museum, or the V and Tay and above these waterbound landmarks, there are the skyscrapers and the Law.

Two things amazed me about it. Firstly, its size. The dimensions are huge – 2.3m by 7.2m. Secondly, its execution. When I asked Pamela if she was painting it from an original drawing, she told me that most of it was being done from memory. How she has managed to plot all the detail to this  scale blows my mind away!

I think companies should be encouraged to sponsor artistic endeavour within their communities. It brings employment to freelance artists. It enhances the working environment for employees. Above all, it inspires not only the artist to exercise her creativity but also inspires the viewer to bring something unique to birth even if it just remains in their imagination!

We are all made in the image of God. And God is introduced to us in the first book of the Bible as the Creator. The poet has written a beautiful account of the supreme Artist at work creating light, dividing the waters, bringing forth vegetation, separating the day from the night, making the birds of the air, the fish in the sea. When it was done, God saw that it was good. It was very good. Those who share in God’s creative ministry are very good too!

Minister’s Blog

3 March 2019

Over thirty members of the congregation have divided up into reading groups to participate in the Community Bible Experience. Over an eight week period before Easter, we are reading the first part of the Old Testament – Genesis to Kings!

At the moment, we are working our way through Leviticus. I must confess it is not the easiest of reads with its detailed regulations about sacrifices, skin diseases and the dismantling of the tabernacle!

The most alarming sections deal with the appropriate punishments which should be meted out for particular offences. They include death and expulsion from the community. It doesn’t portray the warm, inclusive, merciful  communities to which we belong.

But as well as these severely punitive passages, there are some tender moments. ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest….Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.’

Minister’s Blog

2 March 2019

Ada Lovelace was Lord Byron’s daughter. He left her mother when she was only a month old. They never saw each other again. She was brought up by her mother and educated at home.  As a woman, she wasn’t allowed to go to University. But she excelled at mathematics.

In due course, she  worked with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Machine, the forerunner of the computer.  She was asked to translate a maths book from French into English. This was her chance. She added twice as many pages of mathematical notes.

Hidden in this appendix to her translation was the first computer programme! This was all done in 1843 when the kirk split in two! Although that was a momentous event, it seems to me that this development in modern technology has had a much deeper and longer lasting influence!

Ada Lovelace was very accomplished. She played the piano, harp and guitar. She skated and did some horse-riding. She brought up three children. Sadly, she died of cancer when she was only thirty-six years old.  

She had this photograph made just before she died. Although she was in great pain because of her cancer, she wanted her friends to have a copy of  her likeness. One of them was Mary Somerville, the scientist on our ten pound note!

Ada sent her a cap which she had embroidered. Mary was delighted and wrote back, ‘It shows that we mathematicians can do other things besides studying xs and ys.’ They could collaborate, make connections, get back to first principles, celebrate life in all its fullness!

Minister’s Blog

1 March 2019

Following a recent blog, our Session Clerk, who is also a local farmer, sent me an e-mail with these nineteen wise words! ‘Live as though you were going to die tomorrow, farm as though you were going to live for ever’!!

Minister’s Blog

28 February 2019

Once again, the scientists confirm the value of love. Packaged as the gospel it would receive no headlines but there it is for all to see. ‘Being loved boosts your chance of a long life.’ The headline relates to a study of  relationships over at least twenty years.

People who are in a long-term relationship with a partner who clearly cares for them and is attentive to their needs tend to have a lower risk of mortality than those who are in relationships where the partner has been less attentive over a ten year period.

In fact, people in these relationships have a 42% higher risk of death in the following ten years. You can see how it happens. If you begin to notice that the relationship is not as supportive as it was this will inevitably be more stressful, worrying, debilitating. And this is bad for our health.

So now we know that hugging and kissing and being caring and attentive are good for your health. Whether it increases  your longevity is neither here nor there for your life will be enhanced so much with kisses and cuddles that you will think  that you are in heaven anyway!

Minister’s Blog

27 February 2019

During the last ten years or so of his life, the aging Monet was painting  huge canvases of  clouds, water-lilies and light. An opportunity was given to display these huge canvases for the benefit of the French nation.

In his biography, ‘Mad Enchantment’, Ross King writes very fully about the difficulties which Monet endured during these years – bereavement, the disruption of the Great War, the deterioration in his eyesight, frequent loss of confidence in the worth of his achievement.

Towards the end of the project and his life, he decided not to let these final  paintings be displayed in his lifetime. And, in fact, never completed a tiny corner of one of them before the day of his death.

Interestingly, this unfinished painting is entitled, ‘The Setting Sun’. King says two things about it. Firstly, he thinks that Monet ‘wished to emphasise the provisional and incomplete nature of his efforts’.

Secondly, and more convincingly, he says that perhaps ‘he simply could not bear to bring his labours to an end, and to let the sun finally set on his Grande Decoration’. What unfinished intimations will be leave behind in our efforts to defy mortality and the inevitability of our  last day?

Minister’s Blog

26 February 2019

In the light of what was revealed in ‘The Class Ceiling’ have said, we can see that this exclusive world  where some are in and others are not and those who are out  don’t have a chance to get in because they cannot manufacture the elusive qualities required to get there is contrary to the Gospel.

Consider these three things. Firstly, the things which the church values are not the same as what the world values.  Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sorrowful  and excluded, says Jesus! Why so prized in his kingdom. Their lives are empty enough to recognise their need of God.

Secondly, the community created by the church is not self-selecting. This is the trouble with class divisions. They encourage people of a particular background to choose the company of people from their own background.

But the church is not like this in its constitution. We do not choose who is in and who is out. God calls and we respond. Baptism is freely offered to anyone and everyone who wants to follow Jesus.

Thirdly, identity in the church  is not tied up with who we are nor what we can do nor where we are from nor what our fathers did. Identity in the church is tied up with what God has done for us in Christ.

We are all made in the image of God and Christ has died for  us whether we have economic, social or cultural capital, whether we have that elusive polish or studied informality or whether we belong to one class or another. 

For this community is not determined by personal advantage nor even business advantage but a love which transcends all these created barriers to peace and happiness.

Minister’s Blog

25 February 2019

In ‘The Class Ceiling’, the authors’ argue that there are three primary forms of capital – economic, social and cultural. The economic and social advantages are obvious. The more subtle one is cultural capital which  seems to inhibit working class people from breaking the class ceiling at the height of these professions.

In one accountancy firm, the key cultural characteristic was termed ‘polish’. It is what people needed beyond the technical competency which would have led them to be considered as partner material. And in what does this polish consist?

Polish is multi-dimensional. It involves expectations around a person’s accent and style of speech. It’s  about appearance, dress and etiquette. It’s  about ‘a particular style of communication’.  The authors describe it as ‘interactional poise, understatement and embodied ease’ and argued that the power of polish was more influential than what would be required to get a person into the firm in the first place.

Of course, the trouble with ‘polish’ is that it is an indeterminate quality. You cannot pin it down. It not only lacks transparency, it lacks identity. The trouble is that people in these places know when you’ve got it.  But no-one knows how to get it!

It begs many questions – and two in particular. Why should the highest positions in an elite company like this be guarded by such an elusive quality which is  probably the fruit of a particular way of nurturing children from  a privileged background?

Why should the ethos at the highest echelons of the company be determined by polish rather than something else like empathy or friendliness or even thoughtfulness or happiness?

Minister’s Blog

24 February 2019

I was fascinated to read a recent study by two economists, Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison, entitled, ‘The Class Ceiling’. It’s all about  the difficulties which men and women from working class backgrounds have in achieving the highest positions.

The statistics are quite alarming. People from upper middle class origins are 6.5 times more likely than someone with a  working class background to land an elite job in the likes of finance,  medicine, law, accountancy, acting  and so on.

People from upper middle class backgrounds are twelve times more likely to become doctors than those from a working-class background but only twice as likely to become engineers. But they still have a greater chance!

Most astonishingly of all, those from working-class backgrounds earn on average 16% less in elite occupations than colleagues from privileged backgrounds. Clearly, they get into these fields but they aren’t able to travel as far! Why?

Minister’s Blog

23 February 2019

‘And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.’  You remember those memorable words from the beginning of the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. They herald the birth of the Christchild.

Every time they are read on Christmas Eve, I think about Caesar Augustus and wonder about his appearance in the Christmas Gospel. He pins down the incarnation to a specific time frame, confirmed by the Emperor’s dates.

Recently, I came across Augustus. Seneca, a contemporary of Christ, wrote about him. In his helpful, ‘On the Shortness of Life’, he describes the Emperor as ‘the deified Augustus’ and brings him in  to illuminate an interesting point.

Apparently, he prayed to the gods for rest and leisure and looked forward to that day when in the words of Seneca,  he could ‘lay aside his own greatness’. It was a long time in coming but, in the longing, he discovered something helpful.

‘Since the delightful reality is still a long way off, my longing for that much desired time has led me to anticipate some of its delight by the pleasure arising from words.’  Although he couldn’t enjoy any leisure, there was some enjoyment in its anticipation!

Minister’s Blog

22 February 2019

Whilst studying an old stone tablet containing a mathematics lesson for some Iraqi children around 1500BC, Ernst Weidner alerted the world of mathematics to the possibility that the Pythagorean Theorem was well known a millennium before Pythagoras.

Unfortunately, when he was studying the tablet in 1916, part of it was missing. It wasn’t discovered until the 1980s. At that time, Christopher Walker was looking through the vast supply of stone fragments in the British Museum.

Quite by chance, he discovered the piece of stone which was missing from Weidner’s mathematics lesson. On it was direct evidence that the Pythagorean Theorem was known to the people of Iraq around 1500BC! But it took 3,500 years to declare it to the world!