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.
22 March 2019
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.
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.
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!
21 March 2019
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.
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
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.
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.’
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
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?
20 March 2019
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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
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!
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
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
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
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
‘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?
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
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
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!
12 March 2019
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!
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?
11 March 2019
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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?
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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!
7 March 2019
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.
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!
6 March 2019 – St. Baldred’s Day
God, we celebrate Your servant, Baldred of the Bass, who brought Christianity
to this corner of Scotland.
his Cradle, nurture our faith that we may be a cradle of Your
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
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!
4 March 2019
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!
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.’
2 March 2019
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
this community is not determined by personal advantage nor even business
advantage but a love which transcends all these created barriers to peace and
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
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?
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
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?
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?
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!
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