Tag Archives: Robert Burns

Where it all began….

The seventy-odd year old patient in one of the EMI wards at the Mental Healthcare Hospital always greeted me with, “What are you doing here, you stupid (expletive removed) old parson?”.

Then there was Bernadette, in another facility, who always groaned when I came to conduct a worship service in her Care Home. “It’s that blethering bugger – again! Why? Why?”

As “Withnail” said, “We’ve come on holiday by mistake”, so I often felt that I had stumbled into Holy Orders by accident.

Wanting to stay on at University after my MA, and interested in Ecclesiastical History, the only way to secure a grant in those days was to become a candidate for the Church of Scotland ministry.

The “Selection School”, a three day residential series of interviews and psychological and other evaluations and tests, was the “way in” on a journey that began in 1970.

At the last minute, I had cold feet. Yet I attended. And literally had cold feet…and legs, arms, torso; obviously, the Church, being perpetually skint, couldn’t afford the shillings for the meter.

As Rabbie Burns, in one of his most stinging poems, put it,

“As cauld a wind as ever blew,
A cauld kirk, and in’t but few”. (“In Lamington Kirk”)
It was grim, especially at night: icy, numbing, desolate.

There’s a Bible verse that speaks exactly of the conditions in the small cupboard of a bedroom assigned to me: Isaiah 28:20 (New International Version)

“The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.”
The window didn’t close fully, and a freezing Edinburgh “hoolie” roared through the large gap (handy in one respect, in that, as smoking was banned on the premises, I could blow cigarette smoke out through it).

The bed was, if not short, then narrow. This was Kirk property, and, no doubt, it was designed to prevent anyone else “sharing”

I had to lie on my side. More, because of the cold, I wore my dressing gown on top of my pyjamas and socks – on my feet, naturally, but also a pair on my hands in a vain attempt to keep warm.

Was it the cold that stultified me so much that I zipped through all the various tests, in order to get first to the one bar electric fire in the library in order to thaw out?

I don’t know.

But here I am, forty something years later, a paid up member of “God’s Frozen People”

I wonder what the journey would have been had I not travelled the Ministry route….
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

“The Road Not Taken”
Robert Frost – 1874–1963 – Mountain Interval, 1920.

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a brief thought for Burns’ Day (25 January)


W e once had an adorable little dog namd Jamie – and Jamie was several sandwiches short of a full picnic. He moved, barked, slept, wagged his tail, but mister brain was not always firing on all cylinders.

He’s the only dog that I’ve known who ran away in fear when his bowl of biscuits and canned dog-food was placed in front of him – usually, he would find sanctuary under the TV set. His meal would be abandoned and , try as we would, he rarely returned to the fried up remains.

Then,one day, after the usual performance, he was tempted by some of our left-over sandwiches – and he ate them!

This gave me an idea: why not make him dog-food sandwiches and feed him from the dining room table?

So… into the kitchen, “Mighty White” bread and a delicious and tempting filling of Cesar premium canine meat with chicken, spread daintily on the bread and sliced up into little portions – yum!

Well, he sniffed them
He took one in his mouth
……………………………………………………………………………………………. then spat it out on the carpet.

Maybe he wasn’t as daft as he looked.

Sadly, if you dress up some things in fancy packaging, you can fool at least some of the people some of the time, but not everyone.

So many of us look at externals and judge thereupon – sometimes missing the essential worth of a product, or even of a person.

Unfortunately, when it comes tosome people, we rush to judgement and on occasion miss the intrinsic good or true value of a person.

One of the main planks of Robert Burns’ philosophy was the essential worth of the human spirit.

He couldsee through the fancy packaging; it didn’t matter whether a man wore moleskin breeks or ermine. The point was “Who are you as a person? Are you doing something to uplift others and make the world a better place?”

These were the criteria by which he assessed his fellows, whoever they might be.

The honest, social, selfless person is the ideal of a good citizen – the keystone of any society including our own.

It is when we recognise the essential worth of the human spirit, taught to the world two thousand years ago by Jesus Christ; only as we recognise that the one true basis of human brotherhood is the Fatherhood of God; then and only then will the Bard’s dream of “The Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World” be realised

“Then let us pray that come it may
As come it will for a’ that
That man to man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that”

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January 25, 2014 · 11:31

Rev Henry Duncan

Henry Duncan lived from 8 October 1774 to 12 February 1846. He was the founder of the world’s first savings bank. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Henry Duncan was born at Lochrutton, west of Dumfries, the son of the parish minister. As a boy he met Robert Burns, and he was educated at Dumfries Academy. He went on to become a student at the University of St Andrews, but after less than a year, aged 16, he took up a post with Heywood’s Bank in Liverpool, a city in which two of his brothers already lived. Three years later, Duncan decided that commercial banking was not for him, and returned to his studies, attending the University of Glasgowand the University of Edinburgh before being ordained as a Church of Scotland minister.

In 1799 Duncan was appointed minister of the parish of Ruthwell, which lies between Dumfries and Annan. He arrived to find a very deprived community and set to work to revive it, turning the local church land into a model farm to provide work. He also reinvigorating the village’s Friendly Society and used it to distribute food and grain supplied by his brothers in Liverpool. In 1810, Duncan used the Friendly Society’s cottage as the launch pad for a completely new initiative, a locally-based savings bank that was self-supporting and based on business principles. The savings bank was an immediate success. Duncan ran the bank himself without pay, and the surpluses generated went back into providing services for the community. The idea spread rapidly: within a decade savings banks had been established in many parts of the UK and were managing funds of over £3 million. The ideal also caught on in Europe and North America.

In 1818 Duncan paid for the restoration of the 17ft high Ruthwell Cross which had been smashed by Presbyterians in 1642. In 1828 he read a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in which he described fossil footprints he had found in sandstone in Dumfriesshire: thus becoming the first person to produce a scientific report on fossilised tracks. A cast of the tracks, made by an animal named after Duncan as Chelichnus duncani, is in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. In 1839 Duncan served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Four years later, during the 1843 Disruption he helped establish the Free Church of Scotland. Henry Duncan died in 1846.

English: The Ruthwell Cross. The cross contain...

English: The Ruthwell Cross. The cross contains the earliest known written English in the WORLD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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July 25, 2013 · 11:45

Holy Willie’s Prayer


“One of Burns’s most scathing, and certainly his most famous attack on religious hypocrisy is the satire ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’. Written in 1785, the poem was inspired by William Fisher, an elder of Mauchline Kirk. As such, Burns’s ‘Holy Willie’ considers himself to be one of the religious ‘elect’; one who is preordained for heaven.

Burns uses biblical language to convey the obvious irony present in the idea that Holy Willie is a ‘chosen sample’. The notion of the corrupt Willie as ‘a pillar o’ thy temple’ insinuates the instability of a Kirk and community directed by hypocrites.

The idea of Willie as ‘a guide, a buckler an’ example/To a’ thy flock’ not only serves to stress the subject’s delusion, but to reinforce his ordinariness as a human being subject to natural physicality, something that Burns exploits to the utmost in this sustained derision of religious fanaticism and hypocrisy. Willie is in fact human and as such, he is necessarily subject to physical desires.

Burns further exposes Holy Willie’s hypocrisy by elaborating upon the contradictory nature of his address. Willie confesses that he has indeed had a sexual encounter, but vows ‘ne’er to lift a lawless leg/ Again upon her’ if God forgives him and so, Willie admits that he himself has broken one of the laws of religion that he claims to uphold. Burns immediately follows this with another confession, ‘wi’ Leezie’s lass three times I trow’, indicating not only a lack of sincerity on the part of this famous hypocrite, but a lack of fear of God.

And so, in this poem Burns clearly attacks the misguided complacency of those who consider themselves to be ‘elect’, whilst reinforcing the idea of the physical as an unavoidable reality of human nature, to expose his subject’s hypocrisy.”
Pauline Gray from the BBC website

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

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The brotherhood of man – posted to celebrate Robert Burns Day, 25 January

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Divine Service In The Kirk Of Lamington – Robert Burns

As cauld a wind as ever blew, 
A cauld kirk, an in't but few: 
As cauld a minister's e'er spak; 
Ye'se a' be het e'er I come back.

Burns carved these lines into the window of the Church in Lamington, Clydesdale, which drew the wrath of the beadle.

The minister of the Church at the time was Thomas Mitchell (d. 1811).

It is unsure when Burns actually scrawled this piece on the window, although it can be narrowed down to two potential times.

The first was in late February 1789, the second in December 1791.

However, he wrote to Jean Armour on 29 February 1789 that he had had a ‘horrid journey’ to Edinburgh, and would have passed through Lamington the previous weekend.

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