Tag Archives: Mammon

4 July: Clouds over London II.

st.pauls.from meynell

Although I was born within the sound of Bow Bells, making me a true Cockney, I am less of a Londoner than Chris, who spent most of his working life in and around the capital. After taking in the view I shared yesterday, we wondered if we could see Saint Paul’s cathedral or would it be lost among the towers of Mammon? Chris thought the planners would have wanted to preserve the view of it from Greenwich, I was much less sure, remembering the gung-ho attitude to vanity projects of the last London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

We walked across the hill to look West towards the actual City of London, a small borough in the midst of it all. We peered left and right, identifying a couple of suburban towers, but were disappointed, until I spotted the dome, dwarfed by the towers, but still visible from a green hill in Greenwich. My photograph was not usable, but this shows a similar view from 1898 – similar but for one thing: the Cathedral is at the centre of William Hyde’s engraving unchallenged by the rash of towers spreading across from those we saw in yesterday’s picture.

There are all sorts of possible responses to this, most of them platitudes.

But the story goes that Christopher Wren, architect of the present Cathedral, following the disastrous fire of 1666, found in the ruins, as he began surveying the site,  a stone carved with the word ‘RESURGAM’ – I shall arise. And his Cathedral rose where the old one had stood. Let us Christians live as if we believe that, and the gates of hell will not prevail.

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July 3: Clouds over London I.

london towers clouds
We went to Greenwich for a reunion. Greenwich Park is on a hill; it was a favourite retreat for royalty such as Henry VIII, not far from London then, now an inseparable part of London but still green.
This  tremendous sky towering over the towers deserved to be remembered. Next morning I read these lines in Dante’s Inferno,  lines that seemed to fit the picture:
“Not all the gold, that is beneath the moon,
Or ever hath been, of these toil-worn souls
Might purchase rest for one.”
Divine Comedy Canto VII
People earn crazy salaries in those towers; people work crazy hours in those towers, chasing what seems like imaginary money from one side of the world, through devious channels and passages, to the other.
If only they could see the clouds of heaven in all their beauty! But their towers, even as they exalt them from the ground, obscure the sky and the sight of heaven.

Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Nicholas Lash, in Theology for Pilgrims (p22), tells how Frei Betto, a distinguished Dominican theologian from Brazil was invited to contribute a guest editorial for New Blackfriars, their magazine. He wrote that people had told him that Britain was a secular country, yet he found it a pagan country, where the things that were worshipped were not called gods.

 

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May 2: Laudato Si! A lost world of compassionate agriculture

flight.egypt.amsterdam

I found this passage when I was researching a plantation-owning family in Trinidad. The author is Gerard Besson, a cultural researcher from the island. Here is describing how the agricultural sector of the economy has changed since the Second World War, although the changes had been cumulative since the Abolition of Slavery in 1833. The whole article  is interesting reading and appropriate the day following the feast of Joseph the Worker, here leading his family to Egypt.

An important factor that has impacted on identity was the end of the agricultural sector. (Besson means a diverse agriculture which has largely given way to big sugar plantations.)

People see the agricultural sector from the perspective of today. And they only see Indian people – the world of the cane farmer. In truth, the agricultural sector in the past was enormous. It included a lot of black and French Creole and mixed people. It existed for some 200 years. But the ending of the agricultural sector was one of the things that undermined notions of identity which were built through the 19thcentury and into the first half of the 20th century.

One of the effects of the loss of the agricultural sector is a more  compassionless  society. Because when you have hundreds of thousands of people, whether they are Indian people, white people, mixed people or African people, who are devoted to the bringing up of livestock, who are devoted to gardening, market gardening, vegetable planting, to cocoa and coffee and so on, you have people who have a lot of love for their animals and for their plants. You have to love your donkey!

So when you move hundreds of thousands of people out of that world of compassion, you create an increasingly compassionless society.

Let us pray that we may love our world, and become people who have a lot of love for the animals and for the plants that share our gardens and neighbourhoods. Lord, Fill us with compassion for a bruised world; help us to see where we can make a difference, and to do just that. For your love’s sake, Amen.

Laudato Si!

A well-loved little donkey from Amsterdam. MMB

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22 April: the Hireling’s Vocation.

shepherd-mounted-brecon

My apologies for being gloomy on Good Shepherd Sunday! I was listening to the Gospel reading, until the words about the hired man running away when life got difficult.

It came home to me that public servants are now treated simply as hirelings. Successive governments have eroded the conception of vocation, checking simply whatever inspectors can measure. They price up every task and every worker but know the value of none: teacher, nurse, doctor, probation officer, bus driver. Mammon, alias the Market, is god in Britain.

Many find it hard to reconcile their sense of their vocation with these measurements. All too easily creeps in a culture of deceit. I have seen official advice to primary school teachers not to be generous in early assessments so that children can make progress – on paper. Something similar must be at work, if unconsciously, a few years into a child’s career. I’ve lost count of meetings where secondary teachers tell their primary colleagues their assessments are too generous, ‘so-and-so is a level or more beneath where you had her.’ While accusing neither of conscious dishonesty, both have an incentive to show that their school is enabling the pupil to progress through the levels.

And will the pupil become a better spouse, parent, neighbour, worker for all that measuring?

Many staff who leave cite overwork – especially paperwork – as a factor in their decision. What lies behind this is that they feel expendable, not valued. I am blessed to be at the natural end of my career but still able to work at the margins, where I pick up Pope Francis’s famous ‘smell of the sheep’, working one-to-one with young people who cannot get on with school. I’m not sure I could.

There’s no disguising the weather in which this mountain shepherd is gathering his sheep. On the slopes of Pen-y-fan, Brecon, Wales.

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February 17th: Lift up thine eyes to the hills …

rav.skyline2

There are hills and hills of course. Saint Thomas’s Hill is on the rim of the dish that cradles the city. Most cyclists seem to dismount to climb up it, but coming down is another matter; I think that qualifies as a hill. For the last fifty years it has housed the University of Kent, not visible in this winter’s picture.
Indeed I’ve deliberately shown this ‘temporary’ car park in all its glory to stress the point brought home to me as I turned this corner the other day – without my phone of course, so I could not recapture that careless rapture. Here the panel of parking regulations, the hastily spread asphalt and the scrubby edges of the car park impel the walker to pass by on the other side as quickly as possible.

I walk this way nearly every day, eyes averted.
Between where we stand and those whitewashed cottages a footpath takes a short tunnel under the railway; then to the left of the cottages and to the playing field behind the tall trees; a not unpleasant walk. From there the hilltop is seen to be covered in university buildings; from here neither they nor the post-war houses across the field make much impact.
There’s no way you could imagine yourself in the Kentish countryside, but look up! There is a hill, there are trees, there is hope. Even if the developers would happily sacrifice the trees on the altar of Mammon.

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This car park has never been built upon. It used to be an allotment garden, gone wild before we came, but good for raspberries, brambles, lizards and slow-worms. A sustained effort was made to rescue the reptiles, now safely rehoused on reclaimed land elsewhere. But this land will be built on. People need homes too.

But what struck me the other day as I walked home?
A hint of sun on the hill, made the grass, and the young stems of the trees – there are plenty of willow in yellow and red – shine against the black of their trunks and branches. It was a Psalm 121 moment – I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
A spring in my step, though nothing material had changed. The car park, graffiti and the intrusive buildings were still there, but look beyond!
The window looks out onto real hills, the Black Mountains of South Wales.

2005-04-10 16.23.30

Psalm 121
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

King James Version – to match the window.

A version of this post has appeared in the Will Turnstone blog.

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December 26: A privilege?

scabious.1

I was not going to buy anything from the expensive catalogue, but one headline took my eye:

Few things in life are a privilege to give and receive.

Complete with full stop, to suggest that the whisky concerned must be as perfect as the grammar.

Hang on, I thought, that’s rubbish!

A Japanese friend counted it a privilege to buy our daughter’s first shoes: to us it was a privilege to receive them. Rings. Embraces. Musical performances. A child’s painting. A plant grown from seed or cutting. A birthday cake. Care for a frail person.

You can add to the list, and please do. ‘It is in giving that we receive.’ To be alive and able to give and receive is itself a privilege. To be able to love.

To share in Jesus’ humanity and his divinity is the ultimate privilege: freely you have received, so freely give.

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Saint Stephen gave his life, as we remember today.

Happy Christmas from all at Agnellus’ mirror!

WT.

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21 October: M is for Merthyr Tydfil

396px-Merthyr_Tydfil_arms

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4249407

Readers may get the impression that Agnellus has a slight obsession with Welsh and Saxon Princesses who knew their own minds and hearts. We don’t apologise! Such women may have used their privileged position to be allowed to open their monasteries and run them with minimal male oversight, but in doing so they enabled other women to live in community, to receive an education, to be able to help those who came to the abbeys for help.

Not so Tydfil – or Tudul in the accepted Welsh spelling. She was a martyr, killed, it is said, by a gang of pagans. I once helped tidy up her churchyard in the town, and rescued from the skip an angel from a broken gravestone; he or she watches over our backdoor today.

robinangel-2

Tudful was by no means the last martyr in Merthyr. With iron and coal nearby, the town was a cradle of the Industrial Revolution. People came for work as rural jobs disappeared, as famine struck in Ireland, but they lived in insanitary conditions, many dying of diseases including cholera. Human sacrifices on the altars of capitalism, as so many people around the world are today, living and working in unsafe conditions.

We’ve noted before how we are inescapably implicated in exploitation of our sisters and brothers; for instance it is difficult to avoid buying clothes and shoes produced without misusing people: at least there are Fair Trade bananas, coffee, chocolate and other foods. Their producers look after the land they work.

The old iron and coal masters did not: spoil heaps covered and poisoned fields close to the iron works or pit head; often it was many years before even birch trees would grow there. The ultimate martyrdom from this disregard of God’s creation occurred near Merthyr on October 21,1966 when a spoil heap at Aberfan avalanched down the side of the valley, taking the lives of 116 children and 28 adults, who would not have been born when someone decided to dump rock and soil on a steep slope. I met a policeman who lost his faith in God after living through that afternoon; who can blame him? But this was man’s work.

You may dispute my use of the word martyrdom, but lives were cut short through accident or disease through worship of Mammon.

The Way of Jesus puts people before profit. A good start would be the motto beneath the Saint on the arms: ONLY BROTHERHOOD IS STRONG. Provided, of course, that the sisters are not left out.

Let us grit our teeth in the face of human wickedness, and say Laudato Si’ – and give a care to our own little patches of God’s earth – ours to hand on to others better than we found it. And perhaps find a corner or two we can brighten with a little guerilla gardening or tree planting.

MMB

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24 April: The Virtue of Prudence: I, Worth Striving for.

 

360px-picnic_melocco

We don’t hear much about virtue nowadays.  We hear a lot about public people who seem to have no virtue.  In some cases, they appear to be getting away with it, becoming famous, rich, glamorous people.  Yet, often they leave behind a trail of destruction, from failed relationships, to substance abuse, to the obsessive search for new medical treatments aimed at halting time’s affect on their appearance.  How can such an existence be a happy one?  Or there are others in the media whose lack of virtue leads to behaviours and attitudes that few seem to admire.  The media likes to gloat over that kind of moral failure and condemn it in huge headlines – while adverts in the same publication hypocritically try to sell us another, more glossy, version of the same vice.  We live in confusing times, and to praise someone for his or her virtue, to name the virtues and speak of them in a positive light – to talk about prudence, for example, as a quality worth striving for: well, that wouldn’t sell many newspapers.

Yet, prudence is a beautiful thing, so balanced, discerning and wise.  It is eminently worth striving for.  In the next several posts I hope to say why this is so, and make up a little for some of the silence that seems to surround the virtues in our culture.

First, the virtue of prudence is one of a cluster of four moral virtues, the other three being temperance, fortitude and justice.  As moral virtues, we must understand that these require some work on our part.  But, this is not a hopeless task: God has given us the potential to develop all the virtues through prayer, the commitment of our will, and the follow-up behaviours that are consonant with the virtue.

Before turning to prudence, it is good to reflect for a moment on the notion of virtue itself.  To speak of virtue is not to speak of an occasional good action.  We are talking about a power which the soul acquires.  A virtue is something we must exercise, yes, but in so doing, it becomes part of our very character as persons, part of our personality and nature.  It is not a mere role, or a good trick which we perform on a good day if we’ve got the energy.  Rather, a virtue becomes an outward expression of what has become intrinsic to us and part of our very identity.  It becomes a stable part of us, a habit of goodness.

SJC.

A monument to a picnic that led to the end of the Iron Curtain. The time was right, and people acted with prudence. We’ll learn more on 19 August, the anniversary of the event. Picnic monument by Kaboldy

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12 April, Relics X: Blood Money.

judasSpy Wednesday we used to call this day, when Judas sold the Lord for a few silver coins, though he probably told himself another story to justify his betrayal.

The politicians were putting the nation first, they said, but even so they recognised that it was blood money when Judas returned the coins. It could not go back into the Temple.

Mammon had won.

But Mammon brings its own destruction with it – as Chaucer tells us in The Pardoner’s Tale, when Death claims the young men who find, but will not share, a treasure.

After the Great War, Mammon tried to rule Germany in order to obtain reparation for the death and destruction caused by the Kaiser’s war-making. The result was hyperinflation. The mark lost value, another war loomed.

A relic of that time was given to me by my c0-writer,
Fr Tom Herbst: tokens-germanythese thin, base metal tokens issued by town councils when the mint could not cope.

Pray for the people of Zimbabwe and Venezuela who have seen their money become worthless, their savings lost, their wages useless. May they not lose hope, as Judas did.

(In this carving from Strasbourg Cathedral the Lamb of God is untying Judas from the Tree and rescuing him from Hell’s mouth.)

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22 March: Wayside Pulpits

altrincham_market_cross_2-480x640Altrincham Market Cross

Early Franciscans, such as Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, our patron, often preached in the open air, maybe at a cross erected as a town’s Speakers’ Corner, like this one, reconstructed in Altrincham, Cheshire. The Reformation saw most of them demolished in England.

agnellusfullWhen we travelled to the North of England recently there were the usual old trailers, parked in fields beside the motorways and advertising  anything from the local builder to  sofas or insurance on-line. There was a cluster in West Yorkshire that reminded me of the  ‘Wayside Pulpits’ that non-conformist churches  display, with their elegant calligraphy proclaiming a Bible verse or seasonal message. ‘Prepare to meet thy God’ read one of these trailers, with a lot more text besides, too much to take in with a passing glance.

One of the firms that arrange these ads boasts that they offer 7-10 seconds of dwell time guaranteed. That’s 7-10 seconds of a driver not fully aware of the road – guaranteed.

The weather was worsening; just a few miles up the road we witnessed a collision.

I don’t suppose the church or individual who had these billboards parked there intended readers to be meeting their God so soon after reading their message, but this is irresponsible and dangerous preaching. It is also illegal. Time to stop it!

MMB.

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