Tag Archives: Mammon

30 July, Going viral XLIII: back to normal?

Boar Lane, Leeds, by Atkinson Grimshaw

There was an unexpected item on my shopping list, so I was taking my time, scanning the supermarket shelves. Before I found Mrs T’s ingredient, I overheard a conversation between members of staff: now this stand was empty, should they deck it out with their ‘back to school’ range, or would that be better on extra selves by the main door? – No, the floor there is uneven, the shelves will wobble and who knows what will happen.

On one level, an unremarkable and admirable conversation between three conscientious colleagues, on another a depressing indication of their employer’s world view. This was the morning of the last day of school for young Abel, and the store wants to sell his parents the back to school stuff before anyone else gets the chance to do so. Are we put on this earth to be customers/consumers/marketing targets? Is there more to post Covid 19 life than shopping? Miss Turnstone reminded me to pop something in the food bank; not everyone could even begin to think about new school gear when food is too expensive.

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13 June: Cathedrals of Silence I.

Eurostar leaving Saint Pancras Station

When Mrs T and I were visiting Germany and Poland, we had to change trains in Cologne. Since the Cathedral is right by the railway station and we had two hours to spare, our plan was easily made. And efficiently undermined by a delay on the Eurostar, which led to arriving in Berlin 6 hours late. Jerome K Jerome did visit the Cathedral between trains in 1890. You don’t have to agree with every word he says, any more than I do, but he has some insight into silence.

There is little to be said about a cathedral.  Except to the professional sightseer, one is very much like another.  Their beauty to me lies, not in the paintings and sculpture they give houseroom to, nor in the bones and bric-à-brac piled up in their cellars, but in themselves—their echoing vastness, their deep silence. Above the little homes of men, above the noisy teeming streets, they rise like some soft strain of perfect music, cleaving its way amid the jangle of discordant notes.  Here, where the voices of the world sound faint; here, where the city’s glamour comes not in, it is good to rest for a while—if only the pestering guides would leave one alone—and think.

There is much help in Silence.  From its touch we gain renewed life.  From contact with it we rise healed of our hurts and strengthened for the fight. Amid the babel of the schools we stand bewildered and affrighted.  Silence gives us peace and hope.  Silence teaches us no creed, only that God’s arms are around the universe.

How small and unimportant seem all our fretful troubles and ambitions when we stand with them in our hand before the great calm face of Silence!  We smile at them ourselves, and are ashamed.

From “Diary of a Pilgrimage” by Jerome K. Jerome.

To be continued tomorrow.

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January 13: Thomas Traherne XXII, Suppose the Sun were absent

darkevening

It is on this day that the people of Greenland have their first glimpse of the sun for the new year.

Place yourself therefore in the midst of the world, as if you were alone, and meditate upon all the services which it doth unto you.

Suppose the Sun were absent; and conceive the world to be a dungeon of darkness and death about you: you will then find his beams more delightful than the approach of Angels: and loath the abomination of that sinful blindness, whereby you see not the glory of so great and bright a creature, because the air is filled with its beams. Then you will think that all its light shineth for you, and confess that God hath manifested Himself indeed, in the preparation of so divine a creature.

You will abhor the madness of those who esteem a purse of gold more than it. Alas, what could a man do with a purse of gold in an everlasting dungeon? And shall we prize the sun less than it, which is the light and fountain of all our pleasures? You will then abhor the preposterous method of those, who in an evil sense are blinded with its beams, and to whom the presence of the light is the greatest darkness. For they who would repine at God without the sun, are unthankful, having it: and therefore only despise it, because it is created.

Meditations 2:7.

‘Repine’ here we read as ‘moan’. Better to be grateful for what is given us, and so be happy.

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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.

rav.skyline3

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.

Photo0674 (555x657)

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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