Stars and A-Stars, The Few and The Many



Last Friday was the 70th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons in the midst of the Battle of Britain referring to the fighter pilots of the RAF saying: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” A number of historians have questioned whether or not that was strictly accurate in historic or military terms, suggesting that the image of the heroic few of fighter command being all that stood between Britain and invasion by Nazi Germany, was a myth sold by Churchill as a morale-booster, in the same way that the disaster of Dunkirk was repackaged (or spun) by him and others in the light of the heroism of the "little boats" (even though the "little boats" only helped a minority of those evacuated from Dunkirk.
I wonder whether subtleties of that part of the Second World War was on the history syllabus for A or AS levels? Those results came out last week as well (with GCSEs to follow this week). As ever there have been many bleating about how much easier exams are these days. I’ve said in a previous post that my personal belief is that they are, but that’s a subjective opinion and I’m not going to be airing it much wider than this blog or the dinner table, because, frankly, whether or not that is true, it is not the fault of those sitting the exams and is a real slap in the face to those who have worked hard for their results… particularly those who’ve worked hard and NOT got the grades they needed. This has been exacerbated by the addition an extra grade at A level this year – A-Stars for those at the very top of the pile… but also by the fact that even some with high grades haven’t got university places, because of high demand and economic cut-backs.
But while some are striving for A-Star's, a huge number of young people want to BE a Star. Its ironic (or perhaps clever planning) that on the same weekend that the exam results come out, the X-factor hits our screens in its annual search for talent, or failing that someone to laugh at as their ill-concieved dreams come crashing down around their ears in front of 2000 people. This idea of instant success stands in direct contrast to the old idea of learning your trade as an artist… paying your dues… I read yesterday that former aspiring X-Factor Star from Northern Ireland, Eoghan Quigg, is now singing in holiday camps to earn a living… Well in the bad old days that was how artists like Tom Jones started. For most people success at any endeavour, be it in singing, sport, school or anything else, requires both talent hard work... Instant success is very rare and often fleeting... yet a tantalising myth, mass-marketed by Simon Cowell and his ilk.
However, whilst I believe that it is important to work hard at school and do the very best you can with the brains that God has given you and the opportunities laid before you, I’m not convinced that the obsession with going to university is necessarily a good thing either… It too may be a myth, being mis-sold to the young.
Not everyone is cut out for proper third level education and frankly I am sometimes a bit cynical about government policies that have pushed more and more young people that direction, wondering whether it was simply a way of delaying their appearance on the unemployment figures. Who we are is not defined by the number of our A-levels or the grade of our degree… Not everyone can get an A-Star in Further Maths… Indeed, for society to function properly we need people skilled at all sorts of things, many of which cannot be taught effectively in a school or university.
In the Battle of Britain, “the few”, most of whom were privileged graduates of university, may have got the plaudits… but they wouldn’t have succeeded with the ground crew and radar operators working behind the scenes, or those working long hours down mines and in factories to allow the manufacture of planes and munitions. And in other spheres, not least in the Battle of the Atlantic, many others were fighting and dieing to keep Britain safe without the recognition or romance.
Paul in the Bible reminds his readers in Corinth that not many of them were regarded as wise, influential or wealthy by the standards of the world (I Corinthians 1: 26), and that is still true within the church today. At its best that means that those who feel like rejects in the wider world can find a place where they are appreciated and welcomed. At its worst it means that sometimes people who do not have any power or influence within the wider world, can get themselves into positions of power, without the skills or experience to exercise it wisely. This is exacerbated when we buy into the "Stars and A-Star" culture within church. Inappropriately lauding the high-flyers and ignoring the plodders, having our own stars and celebrities, whether they be preachers, worship leaders, or even worse "celebrity Christians" who are lauded because, whilst being famous for something (or even nothing) in the wider world, they still, to a greater or lesser degree, profess to be Christian. In this we fall into the same trap that James warned about in his letter (James 2: 1-9).
Later on in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he reminds his readers that if Christ’s body, the church is to function properly then each person must perform their particular function… not everyone can be an eyeball or an earlobe… someone has to be a buttock! (I Corinthians 12: 12-31)
So whether we’re one of the few to get the high grades and recognition in life, the Stars and A-Stars, or one of those working away behind the scenes, for what seems scant reward, we need to remember that we were all created by God for a particular purpose… and play our part to the full…
This is an adaptation of my review of the week for Downtown Radio on Sunday 22nd August.


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