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Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Scotland

Monday 29th November 1999

by Rev John Chambers, Ness Bank Church of Scotland, Inverness.

I was taught to write, not with a pen, but with chalk. The teacher handed out black boards at the start of the day. The children wrote with chalk. The boards were collected in at the end of the day and they were wiped clean and next morning they were ready for a new day's work.

The boards were always specially clean on Monday morning, they must have been treated with some special kind of black polish over the weekend.

What a marvellous way to start the day, or the week, with a clean board, or as we say, a clean slate.

For the people of Northern Ireland, and those like myself who have spent most of their lives there, this has been another anxious weekend. It's difficult to appreciate just how hard it has been for both republicans and loyalists to reach the level of agreement which has now been achieved.

It's asking a lot to wipe clean the hurts of the past 30 years' violence and the hundreds of years of political and religious conflict which went before. Even those of us who are committed to change and progress can be held back in our thinking when we remember friends who have been killed and maimed. It's hard not to want to make those who did the most atrocious things pay the price for the rest of their lives.

On Wednesday of this week I'll be in Edinburgh for an event linked electronically to London, Cardiff and Belfast. I'll be there as a patron of the Clean Slate Campaign.

It's one of the better Millennium ideas. It's simply suggesting that we might each take at least one practical step to wipe our personal slates clean before the year 2000

I've graduated from the chalk and the school black-board to the computer screen, but I'm still scared of the delete button, especially when I hit it accidentally half-way through an inspired script for 'Thought for the Day'. I'm much more comfortable with the 'save' button and I get really angry when the little curved arrow says 'can't redo'.

It's always harder to let go of the past than cling to it.

Confession and forgiveness are major elements in all world religions. It's good for us, it helps us clean up our act and move forward uncluttered by the past.