Time for Reflection

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 9:30 am, 13th April 2005

The first item of business today is time for reflection. Our time for reflection leader is the Rev Bob Brown of Queen's Cross Parish Church, Aberdeen.

The Rev Bob Brown (Queen's Cross Parish Church, Aberdeen):

I thank the Parliament for inviting me to be here.

There is a firm in Aberdeen called The Big Picture, which is full of clever and creative graphic artists and commercial designers. It is a Scottish success story. Since starting 12 years ago, it now has contacts all over Europe and its client group includes Rémy Martin in France, Highland Distillers in the north of Scotland and The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. When one goes into its premises, one sees text on the wall. It is not text from the Bible, but some words from Abraham Lincoln, who said:

"If I was given six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe".

One can understand why that is on a wall at The Big Picture. I guess that graphic art and design require a lot of preparation.

That said, the words apply to other areas of life. For example, the golfer or snooker player who, under pressure, plays the shot that wins the title is able to do so only because of the countless hours that he spent practising on the practice ground or at the table. A soloist is able to play in a concerto only because she has honed her technique over many years and has practised the particular piece of music. Preparation is also vital to the student who wants to pass exams or to the teacher who wants to present a good lesson. One might take 20 minutes to deliver an important speech, but it might have taken 20 hours to construct. Again, as Abraham Lincoln said:

"If I was given six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe".

That applies to all areas of life.

This morning, I want to apply Abraham Lincoln's words to character. By that—dare I say it—I do not mean character as football managers often mean it when they say, "The boys showed great character in coming back to get a draw after being three down at half-time". That is simply getting stuck in, which nowadays includes such activities as shirt-pulling, diving and intimidating the referee. I am talking about character in the sense of moral strength and integrity. That takes time to develop and traditionally it was the church's business to help people to do that. Indeed, the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth was all about that; he said that out of the human heart come evil and good intentions. He identified evil as theft, avarice, deceit, folly and impropriety and he wanted people to avoid them in order to cultivate truth, justice, compassion and wisdom.

Nowadays, there is a lot of public interest in religion—we saw that last week with the widespread outpouring of grief at the death of Pope John Paul II. However, people no longer live in the church, and the challenge for us all is how we can help people to cultivate ancient and eternal truths to ensure that they grow in character. As Abraham Lincoln said:

"If I was given six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe".

We must apply that to character, because nothing matters more than that.