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Posted in Theology

Son of the Manse

A few people have asked me lately what it’s like growing up as a minister’s child. The below is a few disjoint  thoughts (I wrote a blog on this some time ago, but it’s good to refresh the memory!).

Ministers have a tough job, but tradition has it that their wife’s “job” is just as tough. Ministers are very busy folk. My dad was often away in the evenings with home or hospital visits or Presbytery or Union Commission meetings, so mum was often left to “hold the baby”. Couple that with the expectation that the children are supposed to behave like little angels (it’s there, I’m afraid), I’m surprised my mum never seemed to be overwhelmed by stress. Maybe the matching Sunday morning outfits helped, I’m not sure.

When we were growing up, the older ladies in the congregation doted on us. If we hung around after Sunday School long enough, one of them (she owned a sweet shop) would give us sweets-my brothers and I would spend ages putting the chairs away afterwards to make sure we caught her attention. Prayers were often offered for the “Manse family” (a term I never really liked), and while there’s nothing really wrong with that, it always engendered in me a certain amount of discomfort as I didn’t feel my brothers and I to be particularly “special” in relation to other kids. Though mum was never short of potential babysitters! The downside was that I really struggled with being well-known and not really wanting all that much attention from people. People would constantly ask me if I wanted to be a minister like my Dad and I’d say no, and I’d wonder if I’d said the wrong thing.

I think for me the biggest issues came at Prep school. It somehow came out (probably from me; my goody-two shoes attitude did not win many friends) that my dad was a minister. I guess it was because there was a lot of privilege there and some of the boys, myself included, would feel a sense of entitlement because their father was a politician or a lawyer or what have you. The other boys would say he was a priest (which, sadly, was meant to be an insult) or a paedophile. They’d try and get me to swear (at the time, I thought swearing was the worst thing you could possibly do), look at nude pictures (which didn’t interest me as an 11 year old) or rip me to shreds because I’d never watched a 15-rated film (or, later, go out clubbing). But I would later give as good as I got, since I knew I wasn’t going to be popular either way. In the end, however, I came to realise my problems lay because my identity and salvation were rooted in who my father was and not in Jesus.

I have come to realise that it’s great to have grown up with the gospel, even if I didn’t understand I needed to believe it for myself until I was 21. Every night after dinner, we would have a Bible study. We didn’t enjoy it, especially not the singing afterwards; we’d go through Junior Praise (later Mission Praise) and take it in turns to choose which song we’d sing (we’d start from the last one we sang and choose one from the next ten). Invariably, we would choose the shortest one, so Abba Father (Mission Praise 1) got more airings than I care to remember. I once got sent to bed early for refusing to do the actions to one song (I don’t remember which one; I thought doing actions was lame).

In Romans 3, Paul asks if there’s any advantage to being a Jew (and we can take it as meaning those who know the scriptures) and he responds in the positive: however, he goes on to make the point that having this alone doesn’t save you, and that you need to acknowledge that you are as much in need of Jesus as anyone else. Looking back, this is definitely applicable to every child that grows up in a Christian home, and I would count myself among the worst offenders at dismissing it. Thank goodness, then, for grace.

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Some photos of 2016 (free of Brexit and Celebrity Deaths)

I usually write a “year in review” type blogpost- I thought this time I would let some photos I took do the talking. Enjoy!



I got caught in the snow in January while in town…



But I made a new friend (he didn’t stick around long)


…and a few days out shopping


Spring came and Edinburgh lit up again

Ross County won their first major trophy. The Hibs fans who had occupied the vacant seats were able to celebrate later on.

I discovered that people will pay and eye-watering £75 for a t-shirt…


I enjoyed the new upgraded World of WarkCroft at Dave and Laura’s wedding

In May, Luke and I stumbled across a cycle race right in the middle of Edinburgh, surely the most scenic one in the UK


In the first of many celebrity sightings, I met the star of the new emoji movie

In July, I took a holiday to Bordeaux with some friends, where you can cool yourself down with water jets outside the old Stock Exchange building 

My brother (hi-viz vest) had his stag do in MK. It was a blast.


Then we swapped khaki for suits so he could actually get married


Edinburgh put on a natural show during the festival


Celebrity spotting 2: Eamonn Holmes struggling to control a dog during recording of This Morning in London

I saw a doubly patriotic display in Anstruther on the August bank holiday. Good chips too.

Morningside looked amazing in the late summer


Celebrity spotting 3: one of my childhood heroes

Helena and I at the end of the Great Scottish Run-many thanks to the people of Glasgow for the sweets and encouragement

In a happy place, at Formula One’s most famous corner

Nice wasn’t bad in October


The Mediterranean was inspiring

Flexible working days gave me the chance to see the centre of town at dawn

My rock, my refuge

I had a few trips away for work: this is the view in Berwick in November

Celebrity spotting 4: the Sheriff of Nottingham (or Baldrick, if you must) 

The West Bow got all lit up for Christmas

All I wanted for Christmas was a steakhouse, and boy did Edinburgh deliver

Good times with Cord. Even better times when a gas leak means you can have it at the pub.

We went to the Balmoral for a work night out, and the view was amazing.

Thanks for looking through- I’ll leave with a few words from John’s gospel to think about in the run-up to Christmas. Jesus is more than a baby, through him, we can have a closer relationship with God than we can ever imagine was possible.

Merry Christmas!

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.


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Last Brexmas (annual Christmas spoof)

Christmas was thrown into chaos yesterday as Santa Claus defied British children by confirming that his 2016 delivery would still go ahead despite 52% of kids being placed on the naughty list.enemies

His decision has aroused the wrath of the right-wing media who had been complaining for a long time about why we were accepting a foreigner breaking in to Brits’ houses in order to leave their children presents. It comes despite warnings from the childrens’ parents that naughtiness would result in no presents this year- causing leading naughty children to proclaim that children in this country had had “quite enough of grown-ups” before complaints that Newsround was biased towards the nice side in the run-up to December. Liza Mzimba was unavailable for comment.


The surprise findings from the list had further complicated the position in Scotland where Scottish children have long argued that their kind of niceness is a superior niceness to English niceness and that they should therefore be evaluated for niceness separately from English children, but the confirmation of delivery has eased the tension somewhat.

Father Christmas refused to comment on rumours the United States would also be put on the naughty list, only confirming that Turkey did not vote for Christmas.

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The Stothers Situation

It seems fitting that our pub quiz team “The Stothers Situation” reformed last night for the first time in over a year. “But how did it get its name?”, I hear you cry. Luckily, thanks to Facebook’s on this day feature, the answer came exactly five years ago today…

I woke up that day to a lot of Twitter notifications from academics asking me about my PhD thesis- confused, it emerged that a theoretical computer science lecturer had been writing about it. Fortunately, my twitter was private at the time and they were spared puns and inane ramblings about adverts (which might have killed this story stone dead).

It emerged that someone else had improved on the result of my PhD thesis ( you can read about it here and here ) and had cited me frequently. This was an important result, but so was mine: the question arose as to why my work wasn’t so well known. I was told frequently it was an extremely important result: I knew this, but the year prior, my first priority was to finish my studies. On finishing I felt so drained and upset by the whole experience that I sunk into a depression and couldn’t face writing a paper on it and publicising it. With the exception of doing a bit of tutoring to pay the bills, I stayed away from the academic side of things and, when I felt better again, concentrated on finding a job and spending time building on my fragile faith.

However, neither Prof Aaronson, nor the many commenters on his blog knew any of this. From their point of view, I had done this amazing thing and just not bothered to tell anyone, so the comments questioning my motives, analysing my blog posts, and accusing other academics of withholding information. I couldn’t let this slide, so I had to intervene.

Rather than wade into the discussion myself, I decided to email Prof Aaronson telling him what had happened- I didn’t mention everything (I didn’t want details of my being depressed put all over the internet) but I tried to be gracious to him as he was not aware of all the facts. He understood and promptly apologised for anything he said that could be interpreted as a slight against me.

As my LinkedIn profile was at that point essentially an online CV, many of the commentators were amused that the Matrix Multiplication achievement was written in the same paragraph as rather more mundane things like my Word and Excel skills being improved over the course of my PhD- I was told that this would have me go down in scientific folklore (someone made comparisons to somebody finding the value of π and learning Sanskrit verse along the way: such a thing was not a fair comparison but point taken).

Anyway, during the melee of comments on the blog, Henry Cohn, one of the researchers who I cited frequently in my thesis wrote this:


Someone brought it up in the Facebook comments, it stuck with the other team members (who deserve as much credit in this story for helping me get through the whole thesis ordeal), and that is the story of  how “The Stothers situation” got its name.

As an epilogue, along with his wife, he visited Edinburgh the following July (on my birthday, as it happens) and bought me the beer (actually a Diet Coke as I was driving later) he’d promised me for the “trouble” he caused me, and the paper has now been published. A fitting end.

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Posted in Theology

Thought on Leading Small Groups

A few weeks ago one of the guys in my small group took me to one side and asked if I was doing ok. At the time I wasn’t particularly, and while he was sympathetic, he gently rebuked me for not speaking up about it and plodding through on my own.

And he was right- when you are used to leading, you can often neglect to think that you too need to be discipled and supported, and might not ask for it. Or you might be reluctant to open up to your small group, thinking that you are there to serve them, but them serving you is not its purpose.

I know I was guilty of thinking I’m there to give and not to take, however I was convicted that this could be a source of pride and that it’s important to allow your small group to show you some grace and help you out.

On the other side, I found my friend’s concern invaluable and really appreciated it- I would really encourage you to just check in with your small group leader occasionally and ask how things are going. It’s kind, and I guarantee they will be grateful.


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