Tag Archives: hypocrisy

22 June: Of a Piece

The brick-built Roper chapel at St Dunstan’s, Canterbury. Here Margaret Roper brought the head of her father, Saint Thomas More, which she rescued from London Bridge where it was impaled after his execution.

Here’s something to ponder on, today being the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, two martyrs with Kentish connections: Cardinal Fisher, bishop of Rochester and More, chancellor of England, both fell foul of Henry VIII. The post is taken from a footnote to The Life of Johnson, Volume 5 by James Boswell.

Addison says:—’The end of a man’s life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the principal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo…. That innocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in Sir Thomas More’s life did not forsake him to the last. His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected.’ *

Young thought, or at least, wrote differently.

‘A death-bed’s a detector of the heart.
Here tired dissimulation drops her mask.’+

More’s innocent mirth was able to bubble up at his execution in large part because he had been able to prepare himself for this moment, and to approach it fully conscious.

On the other hand, a deathbed may be a scene of agitation for the patient and distressing for witnesses because physical decay impacts upon thought processes and muscular self control. Scenes at the end of life do not necessarily reflect the true state of the principal character; those who lived with the dying person should and will remember many precious, shared moments. And it is to be hoped that the right medical care will make the patient as comfortable as possible, so that they can approach death with serenity.

But let us pray for the grace to be ready to die at any moment, accepting that we will always leave behind plenty of unfinished business.

* The Spectator, No. 349;
+ Night Thoughts, ii. 

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8 May: The Jesus Problem, Part I.

Roman city gateway, Lincoln. The Romans came to Britain soon after Jesus’ time.

After Pope Francis’s prayer about money, let’s join Sister Johanna as she eavesdrops on a discussion on the subject that Jesus refuses to get drawn into needlessly, though his answer puts the question back in his questioners’ court.

The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. They sent their disciples to Jesus, together with some Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in all honesty, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because human rank means nothing to you. Give us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ (see Mt. 22:15-16).

I read these lines from the Gospel of Matthew and it hits me: this spokesman for the Pharisees is really laying it on thick. This is an episode that occurs near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, when feeling against him among the Jewish leaders has reached the danger-point. Now, in their efforts to bring Jesus down, the Pharisees enlist the aid of their disciples – Pharisees-in-training, probably – to do some dirty work, which strikes me as being particularly cowardly. And also they have the help of the Herodians – because Herodians, as supporters of the Herodian dynasty, were the most suitable people to report Jesus, if he could be tricked into saying something against Rome. In which case Jesus would be arrested and conveniently removed from the scene. End of the Jesus Problem for the Pharisees. In this passage, the Pharisees’ disciples are attempting to present themselves as the loyal supporters of Rome – although in fact, none of the Jews were happy under the Roman occupation. But the facts are being manipulated now in order to stack the situation against Jesus. I re-read this passage from Matthew, and I feel anger on Jesus’ behalf as I consider the viciousness behind the overblown flattery of the words said to him. I see the speaker flicking conspiratorial glances at his peers while they all feign seriousness. Sickening.

I continue to ponder this scene, seeking a real encounter with the person of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit working in the sacred text. I try to imagine how I would react if I had been in Jesus’ place. Even at this remove, the main feeling continues to be anger – building up and up inside me. This, along with fear, would be overwhelming if I were really there; I see myself trying to suppress these emotions. I see myself acting – or trying to act – as though I don’t notice the group’s malice, while inwardly being so preoccupied by it, and the implied insult to my intelligence, and the threat to my very life, that I cannot actually answer their question with any show of competence. I see myself quickly trying to end the encounter and escape. The bottom line is that I would be way out of my depth if I were in Jesus’ place, and in the end, even if I managed somehow to preserve my dignity, I would be unable to come up with a response that addressed this complex situation or that impressed anyone – not even my best friend.

Jesus, however, is master of the whole situation. And his flatterers were right. Jesus is not afraid of them or of anyone. He will take them on, astute in every word and gesture. How does he handle things? First, he addresses their falsity. He exposes it. He wants their duplicity to be out in the open, obvious to all. ‘You hypocrites!’ he says. ‘Why are you putting me to the test?’ No one needs to explain why – and no one does. It’s perfectly obvious that they are hoping to trap Jesus, make him look like an enemy of The Establishment. In exposing this, Jesus he easily wrong-foots his questioners – and wins a small victory here. Now he has the advantage in the ensuing exchange.

Jesus clearly knows their game. Nonetheless Jesus has a ‘game’ of his own. He has come into the world as saviour. He will never turn away if there is even a remote possibility that someone present may be open to his person and message. He has been asked a question: ‘Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ Jesus sees that the question is a set-up. But he also sees something they don’t see – he sees that the question can be turned into one that touches the deepest spiritual level of the human being. There may be someone, perhaps only one person in that little group of Pharisees’ disciples, who is reachable. And so, Jesus gives them all a most beautiful answer to their question.

And here we are going to slow this reflection down. We know this story; we know the answer Jesus is going to give. But this is lectio divina. Lectio is about giving the text space to speak in a new way each time we read it, not pre-empting the Holy Spirit by rushing ahead to the end, then dusting off our mental hands, closing the book and dashing away unchanged. So, we’re going to pause this reflection here for today, and return to it tomorrow, perhaps with an even greater degree of openness to the message that Jesus, through his Spirit working in us, may wish to give.

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9 November, Relics XXV: Borrow’s blind spot

Strata Florida as seen a few years before Borrow’s visit.

George Borrow on his mid-19th Century tour of Wales has reached Strata Florida Abbey, where the grave of the mediaeval bard Daffyd Ap Gwilym, is thought to lie.

Who knows, said I, but this is the tree that was planted over Ab Gwilym’s grave, and to which Gruffyd Gryg wrote an ode?  I looked at it attentively, and … relying on the possibility of its being the sacred tree, I behaved just as I should have done had I been quite certain of the fact: Taking off my hat I knelt down and kissed its root, repeating lines from Gruffydd Gryg, with which I blended some of my own in order to accommodate what I said to circumstances:

“O tree of yew, which here I spy,
By Ystrad Flur’s blest monast’ry,
Beneath thee lies, by cold Death bound,
The tongue for sweetness once renown’d.
Better for thee thy boughs to wave,
Though scath’d, above Ab Gwilym’s grave,
Than stand in pristine glory drest
Where some ignobler bard doth rest.”

A man came up attended by a large dog.  “Good evening,” said I to him in Welsh. “Good evening, gentleman,” said he in the same language. “Are you the farmer?” “Yes!  I farm the greater part of the Strath.” “I suppose the land is very good here?” “Why do you suppose so?” “Because the monks built their house here in the old time, and the monks never built their houses except on good land.” “Well, I must say the land is good; indeed I do not think there is any so good in Shire Aberteifi.” “Do many people come to see the monastery?” Farmer.—Yes! many gentlefolk come to see it in the summer time. Myself.—It is a poor place now. Farmer.—Very poor, I wonder any gentlefolks come to look at it. Myself.—It was a wonderful place once; you merely see the ruins of it now.  It was pulled down at the Reformation. Farmer.—Why was it pulled down then? Myself.—Because it was a house of idolatry to which people used to resort by hundreds to worship images, down on their knees before stocks and stones, worshipping them, kissing them and repeating pennillion to them. Farmer.—What fools!  How thankful I am that I live in wiser days.  If such things were going on in the old Monachlog it was high time to pull it down. Myself.—What kind of a rent do you pay for your land? Farmer.—O, rather a stiffish one. Myself.—Two pound an acre? Farmer.—Two pound an acre!  I wish I paid no more. Myself.—Well!  I think that would be quite enough.  In the time of the old monastery you might have had the land at two shillings an acre. Farmer.—Might I?  Then those couldn’t have been such bad times, after all. Myself.—I beg your pardon!  They were horrible times—times in which there were monks and friars and graven images, which people kissed and worshipped and sang pennillion to.  Better pay three pounds an acre and live on crusts and water in the present enlightened days than pay two shillings an acre and sit down to beef and ale three times a day in the old superstitious times. Farmer.—Well, I scarcely know what to say to that.”

From Wild Wales

Image in public domain via Wkipedia.

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July 29: Deep in this Skin that I Live

raindrops-storm-485x335

 

Deep in the skin that I live

Of a thousand tales and a million whispers

Like autumn’s oak on western hills

Olive soaked to save winter’s scourge

Then to glitter in summer’s heat

Deep in the skin that I live

Flows the blood of slavery

And so too the blood of its slave master

Marked by David’s star

And so too the desert’s cross and crescent

Deep in the skin that I live

Throbs the Celtic cross and the cross of George

A thousand generations gone past

A million rejections of enigma’s tale

Led to streams, but stopped from drinking

Deep in the skin that I live

I catch that look again. That curious look, that stupid

smile

Wrapped in subtle nuance. Prepared, well served

That forbidden question: where are you from?

That cold reluctant handshake,

The sudden silence. Distance. No reply

Deep in the skin that I live

Stranger in my fatherland

Alien in my mother’s house

You can run a bit fast, jump a bit high:

Spring rains and washes all away

Deep in the skin that I live

Curled within, locked in, stained outside

The silent scream heard only by silence

Strolls had with pain and frustration

Cards played with insomnia in vain

Tick, and tock, and tick

Let the clock, clock into day

Deep in this skin that I live

A skin that dares dream of tomorrow

And when tomorrow comes

This skin only hopes cynicism never fathers

mendacity.

VE

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May 16: Inter-Galactic Discoveries 1

As I said in my Interruption ‘Third Person Singular’, stories can open our hearts and minds. David’s SF tale has certainly tapped into something with TJH as these next posts will show.

cathedralbyellie2

 

The first Ossyrian mission to Earth had met with mixed success. The ruse of appearing as canines had allowed the fact-finding delegation easy access to terrestrial homes in the British city of Canterbury where the forward base was set up, but the jarring discoveries upset so many of the cherished and tender Ossyrian sensibilities that, ultimately, the investigation was abandoned and, after leaving an illegible note, that nevertheless attempted to communicate a message of the highest moral rectitude, on the porch of the city’s world-famous cathedral, the delegation returned to their ships (parked safely out of sight behind synthetic clouds and equipped with state-of-the-art anti-radar and tracking or detection devices) and gratefully resumed their natural forms of long necks, short legs, thick waists, and large domed heads.

new stuff 3 002

With the lingering (and highly disgusting) taste of dog food still clinging to the bright purple tongues of their alimentary orifices, the weary delegation tucked gratefully into a double-portioned Ossyrian feast; all six types of artificially produced, scientifically assessed, and thoroughly nutritious food and four types of drink that would have, to any other imbiber, seemed very much the same as one another. And, in fact, one of the many gaps in the study would have quickly become apparent at that moment since, limited in their terrestrial culinary experience to various types of dog food and the odd scrap offered by a human or putrid morsel scavenged along the pavement during their frequent ‘walks’, the Ossyrians had completely missed out on an important (and healthy) similarity between their own food and, at least, the native English variety; both entirely devoid of spices and, consequently, nearly tasteless.

As the Ossyrian ships left the terrestrial stratosphere and headed for the great teeming gulf of deep space that would ultimately see them back on their beloved home planet, the long debriefing began.

‘I just can’t understand it,’ Droghmirrxz sighed meaningfully, ‘how they can live with all of the stress…and so unnecessary; clearly an obvious result of their flawed world-view, failure to accurately assess consequences and, let’s face it, a level of hypocritical behaviour that nearly defies belief.’ ‘I know exactly what you mean,’ Gixzmak purred, batting all three of her azure eyes in an attempt to impress (she had had a slow-burning crush on Droghmirrxz for the past eighteen Ossyrian revolutions of its nearer sun). ‘I mean, they profess to believe in equality, peace, mutual respect, social orderliness, and healthy food…but did you notice how many of the earth dwellers, in their actual daily lives, were fractious, ambitious, untidy, and…fat?’ The small group of alien astronauts nodded sagely. ‘Still,’ a faraway expression of almost undefinable longing lit her features, ‘it did feel good, though, being scratched behind my ears…and it was kind of fun,’ she added rakishly, ‘being able to poop outdoors…anywhere I pleased.’ Droghmirrxz blushed a scandalized bright yellow. ‘Really, Gixzmak!!! That’s going too far!’ the group facilitator snapped, but he was smiling and the rest of the group, noting the cue, broke into tepid giggles.

+   +   +

titanmoonlake

Six (terrestrial) months later the thoroughly debriefed and smugly satisfied Ossyrian delegation entered the misty, limash-scented atmosphere of their home world and, touching down at the metropolitan space port, were issued the necessary transport tokens for the hover-tram which took each adventurer home for a period of rest in immaculately beautiful but also completely utilitarian apartment cubicles. Later, the delegation was re-united at the diplomatic wing of the sprawling Inter-Galactic HDQ where they were greeted by an unexpected surprise.

(to be continued)

TJH

 

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April 27th: Peace on Earth? II

dogs.short

All went well with the construction of the intergalactic space modules and the training of their crews. Then the question arose as to how the Ossyrians should appear, for naturally they had very long necks, short legs, a thick waist and huge doomed heads which would tend to generate ridicule probably followed by violence from the earthlings. They pondered long and hard on the best disguise to adopt and finally settled on the idea of appearing as dogs. They had noticed that dogs seem to have very positive and generally friendly relationships with the earthlings, being allowed to enter in all the special places beloved of their masters such as in front of the fires they had in the wintertime and on their beds. So all the crews choose to be different kinds of dogs and started training to eat dog food as served up on Planet earth.

Then they were off. It took nearly six months to arrive at their destination, a place called Canterbury in a country called Britain. They had spent the journey time learning Earth Speak. But this was very difficult because unlike the Ossyrians who only had one language the earthlings had dozens, which as the Ossyrians saw right away produced lots of friction and difficulties.

However, as they were in a part of the world where the language, ‘English’ was among the most familiar to the Ossyrians, they found they could understand at least some of what was said but there was another problem, accents. Some of the people who appeared to be speaking English which the Ossyrians had learned were totally impossible to comprehend because they had peculiar intonations. They looked different and the Ossyrian explorers discovered that they were refugees escaping from wars and revolutions in their own countries, or trying to get work in Britain. Many of the British seemed to resent or even fear them but some people had the same attitude as the Ossryians who never discriminated against any groups because it would obviously lead to friction, discord and violence which would damage the whole of society.

To get accepted by the British, the Ossyrian explorers had first to pose as strays and then hope to be adopted. Gradually this happened and within a month all tRip alfie xxxxhe Osssyrians had been accepted into homes where they were well treated and in many cases ‘spoiled rotten’. This did not please them because it interrupted their examination of the earthlings whose attitudes of mind as expressed by their behaviour seemed more and more difficult to understand now that they were living amongst them.

The earthlings were in some ways quite clever and had invented a lot of technically advanced devices such as ‘cars’ .boats’, ‘aeroplanes’,’ computers’ and more obviously useful things like ‘vacuum cleaners’. However, having invented something they never seemed to spend any time on evaluating its real worth and its probable effects on society as a whole before allowing it to be produced en masse. ‘Cars’ and indeed vehicles in general created huge problems, killing large numbers of people, placing huge demands on the health services, damaging the environment by pollution, preventing more efficient types of transport from being developed and causing economic upheavals when the price of oil changed. By contrast Ossyrians did not own individual transport machines and would not want to because public transport was very efficient and cheap.

Then there was food. The Ossyrians ate only six types of food and four types of drink. All of them scientifically assessed to give the greatest benefit to their bodies and minds. Their food was all produced under artificial conditions and there was plenty for everyone. Consequently they were generally very fit and active mentally and physically and this greatly reduced demands on the health and social services. Generally most Ossyrians died at the agy of about 120 anny.

cathedralbyellie2

Canterbury Cathedral, ESB.

The other thing which impressed and depressed the Ossyrians was the hypocrisy of most earthlings some of whom professed belief in a benign Goddy who required them to love one another and to be charitable to each other. However, this view was more honoured in the breach than the observance as most earthlings seemed to spend a considerable part of their time in denigrating other people which was regarded as a serious ‘sinny’ and totally unacceptable to Ossyrians because it would obviously lead to friction, possibly violence and unhappiness. So it could not be tolerated because it would destroy their wholequality of life  and undermine their well balanced, happy society.

The Ossyrian observers decide to return to their own planet as they had come to the conclusion that they would not be able to help the earthlings whose noble philosophy of life was so much at variance with their actual mores. In any case communication was too difficult because of all the different tongues and accents. However, the Assyrians did leave a letter in the porch of the Cathedral explaining all this to the people of Canterbury who had been kind to their ‘doggies’. But these visiting ‘doggies’ were looking forward to having some proper food again and living in an honest, non-hypocritical society.

Unfortunately no one could understand Ossyrian English, so this note was assumed to be Chinese and thrown away.

Alfie H and Ajax by NAIB; Alfie B by Jennifer Thompson

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Saturday 5th March: The Pharisee and the Publican

 

Picture Saturday wk 3

(Image from www.slideserve.com )

In our house, we used to have a poster of different people doing different things.  The caption read: “Thank you, Father, for making me”.  I often thank God for making me the person I am, with my gifts, my way of life, and my relationships but I also thank Him for helping me as I try to overcome my faults.  Today’s Gospel reminds me of this poster.  It is a picture of two men praying, but their attitudes are very different.  One, the Pharisee, is pleased with himself and just thanks God for making him who he is, while the other, the publican, is obviously not pleased with himself: he sees his faults and prays for mercy.

In praying, our relationship with God should be primary. We think of our relationships with people only when we intercede for them or think about how we can help them. The Pharisee – standing at the front – does not think of people in this way, but thanks God for his ability to keep the rules of the Law as to tithes and fasting, unlike others, namely, the publican.  Meanwhile, the publican, who loves God, and knows himself to be a sinner, stands at the back and humbly pleads for mercy.  This is a correct way to relate to God. The Pharisee does not seem to realise he needs mercy – he seems to think he has earned it by keeping the rules. He does not realise that the important thing is to love others, not despise them.

The Pharisee will feel nothing after praying, for he put nothing of his real self into his prayer, while the publican poured his repentance into his. This is why he goes home feeling “at rights” with God.  Note that Jesus spends time with publicans and sinners, while he accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites.  As He says today through Hosea: “What I want is love, not sacrifice”.  It is the inner attitude that is important, not the outward ritual.

FMSL

 

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