Saturday, May 16, 2009

Scotland - Days 2 & 3: Friday 15, Saturday 16

The East Church of Scotland, Strathaven
The East Church of Scotland is a local landmark in Strathaven, and listed by a Royal Commission as an important building in Scotland. Built in 1777, it stands as a reminder of the firm foundation on which to build a life, that the Old Kirk gave to the people of Scotland. In 1560, the Scottish parliament ratified the Confession of Faith prepared by John Knox. This set up the Church of Scotland as a democracy, governed by the congregations, where the people had direct responsibility for the Kirk. This was in direct contrast to those organizations based on the old Roman, military, heirachical system, where the rule came from the top, and the people obeyed without question, and without responsibility. It also instituted a universal system of education. The idea behind that was that all people ought to be able to read the Good Book, the Bible, for themselves, and had the responsibility make up their own mind what was their opinion on the contents. This also furthered the revolution already underway in Scotland, to remove the power from royalty, and the Church of Rome, into the hands of the Scottish people, who now had the responsibility to ensure that parliament acted responsibily. By doing this, John Knox established the principle that government could be changed by the people, and power taken out ot the hands of a dictator, and/or corrupt government, by non-violent means. The Nike motto, Just Do It, could have been written by John Knox!

In the late 1500s, the Church of Scotland was considered the most reformed church in Europe, and would become Presbyterian. To this day, the Bible sits open on the communion table at the front of each church, to demonstrate freedom of individual thought. Elders for each congregation, are democratically elected by the members of each congregation, and become part of the Church Session of their church. All other leaders are elected from the Church Sessions. The Moderator of the Church holds office for one year. Thus were born the kindly, free-thinking Scots; lovers of education and learning, equality for all, responsibility by all, democracy and good government by and for the people, who went on to influence much of the thinking of the modern world. The modern Scot, although often secular, still holds to these basic ideas. Hence the desire for a Scottish Parliament in which to protect this way of thinking, and to give it a Scottish flavour. Scots have a deep need to have responsibility for their governance, and to do it their way.

Robert Burns is much loved in Scotland, because in his poetry he expressed the feelings of the Scottish people. The Cotter's Saturday Night speaks of the family of a small farmer gathered around on the Sabbath, as he reads the Bible to them, and they sing psalms together to their God who asks them to love each other. Burns goes on to say:

From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,
That make her loved at home, revered abroad:
Princes and Lords are but the breath of kings,
An honest man is the noblest work of God,

Another poem, For A' That and A' That, states that:

The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is King o' men for a' that.

This solid sense of self-worth, based on good character, is a vital part of a true Scot's self-image; Scots are not impressed by worldly show. The poem goes on to end with the words:

Then let us pray that it may,
As come it will for a" that;
That sense and worth, o'er all the earth,
May bear the gree (agree), and a' that.
For a' that, and a' that,
It's coming yet, for a that,
That man to man the warld o'er
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Scotland is a small country, with a small, homogeneous population, all convinced that they are part of the clan, and therefore equally important. They carry this sense of their own self worth, wherever they go, and grant it to all other people. As I understand, ever more clearly, the great psychological and intellectual gifts my parents, community, church and country, have given me, the more grateful I feel to them. Seeing the East Church of Scotland, reminded me of all this.

Balmaha, Loch Lomond
On my second day in Scotland, Norman took Isabel and me, and Lyn, their daughter and my only niece, to Balmaha, Loch Lomond, where we had lunch at The Oak Tree Inn. This restaurant is popular and well-known, because the people walking The West Highland Way, stop off at it for lunch.


The West Highland Way is a trail from Milngavie, through Kinlochleven, ending at Fort William. I was born in Kinlochleven, and my family lived in Milngavie throughout the Second World War years. My son, Douglas, and his wife, Cathy, are going to be walking the trail later this year, which made it even more interesting to me to see its beginning in Milngavie, and the stop-over at Balmaha.

The next day, Saturday, we had a gathering of the clan at an Italian restaurant in Glasgow. It was wonderful to see everyone, and the only person missing was Colin, who lives in Holland. Isabel has kept me up with the family news, but it was enjoyable to hear it 'straight from the horse's mouth', as it were. I hadn't met Helen, Isabel's only grand-daughter, so it was wonderful to enjoy her company. I have no grand-daughter's, so I really appreciate my only grand-niece.

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