We are a society obsessed, some would say completely controlled (by), with bits of paper. I don’t mean Passports or National Insurance numbers: I am thinking, here more, of the bits of paper that state what “qualifications” you have. School passes, degrees, doctorates and professorships, professional qualifications and memberships and, even, those awarded by the state through our Monarch. (Sir Jimmy Saville and Lord Archer spring to mind)
What do these things really mean?
I was fortunate enough to be able to go to a grammar school (for younger readers google it) but had to leave at sixteen because my parents were not able to financially support me any further in my education. It was just too expensive for them. Sixth Form meant a new, costly, uniform and lots of new, virtually unaffordable, text books and we were a very ordinary working class family. It didn’t help that both my parents, like many of their contemporaries, left schooling at fourteen to make their ways in the world; so they were not ever so sympathetic to my position.
Despite having professional qualifications (Study over several years at “night school”) the dear old C of E, when I enquired about becoming ordained, were seemingly unimpressed with them and quite preoccupied with the fact that I had no “A” levels. So made me take some!
You can imagine that I am not entirely impressed with bits of paper.
And just a few nuggets to support my doubts: Does anyone really know what, if any, qualifications John Major had when he took office as Prime Minister? Both Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple) famously opted out of schooling to take up their chosen paths. And the Beatles, between them, hold absolutely no musical qualifications whatsoever – nor did Edward Elgar.
On the other side of this there are many people who bristle with bits of paper (two mentioned above) that don’t seem to amount to much at all. The C of E has some Bishops who wallow in the title of Reverend Doctor but, look more closely, the Doctorate is not always in theology or doctrine or biblical studies. This may seem a bit nick-picking but would you let a professor in astronomy look at your teeth; or a doctor of anthropology cut your toe nails?
And yet, and yet… some of the most important life decisions require no exam sitting at all, no bits of paper. Falling in love and getting married; having children; being a good neighbour; forgiving. By now, of course, I am sure you are all aware where I am going with this.
Jesus had no bits of paper to support Him. Pontius Pilate probably wouldn’t have been impressed anyway.
To be clear: Qualifications are important but they do not give the complete picture – far from it. There is the true story of an American businessman who chose his staff on their IQ ratings. One of them ran way with his wife.