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The Word that Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship – W Brueggemann

TWTRTWWhat is the underlying cultural script or metanarrative that guides the values and lives of 21st-century North Americans? And in what ways does the Bible offer an alternative and opposing cultural script?

Of course, some evangelicals on the Christian right have their own account of the dominant cultural script and the Bible’s countervoice. They point an accusing finger at what they see as the dangerous loss of prayer and of God in public and political life, and they lament the loss of moral clarity and backbone and the erosion of what they define as family and biblical values but which are actually a baptising of their own worldview.

The text of the world is described in various ways throughout the book: It is the text of the Enlightenment, of modernism, autonomous freedom, technical solutions to every problem, sexual emancipation, systematic violence, to name but a few. The book is about the redescription (by means of the Word) that protests against the initial description and presentation of reality (the World) which is not an adequate or trustworthy account.

The subtitle The Bible and discipleship does not imply a ten point plan on how to encourage discipleship in a congregation, for “Discipleship is no easy church program”. Brueggemann dwells on the fundamental issues of the God who calls and the God who sends. In short God calls to discipleship, that is, to follow his presence and purpose and promise, with disciplines being needed for the project. God sends because (a) this God has compelling authority to issue imperatives that anticipate ready acceptance and (b) this God has a compelling passion for what is to be affected and enacted in the world over which this God is governor.

The ‘Word Redescribing the World’ occupies itself with the Biblical text and the way in which Biblical rediscription may be practiced with authority in a cultural context in which old patterns of authority have become outdated.

‘Proclamatory Confrontations’ describes the preacher’s difficult task in his/her confrontation with truth and power. He characterizes preaching as truth speaking to power – “in our postmodern world it is a power that is endlessly subtle, complex and elusive”. Preachers no longer have the power they once had and unless they have some sort of tenure/freehold, they have to avoid emptying their churches. Maybe the best they cam do is a narrative retelling of a text such as Nathan’s confrontation of King David, bringing out the tensions, so that the congregations can apply for themselves, without having it spelt out, how that might apply to the superpowers and global businesses of today.

In ‘A Fresh Performance amid a Failed Script’ we get the impression that the covenant is unconditional but, later on, that it is conditional upon Israel’s obedience. That reflects the fact that scripture is a dialogue with more than one point of view. Indeed, some point to God’s violence in killing the Egyptians.

In ‘Faith at the Nullpunkt’ we see that God always does something new when is people have run out of their own resources and are at their wits’ end.

‘The Word Redefining the Possible’ begins with Jerusalem as a general metaphor that can be applied to all our cities and Brueggemann links it to the urgent issues facing our cities today.

In ‘The City in Biblical Perspective: Failed and Possible’ he shows how Israel lamented the loss of city and imagined a new start – he suggests that the churches should get involved in prophetic action – so maybe things like the Church urban Fund and the Oasis project aren’t so much doing the government’s work for it but demonstrating truth to power.

In ‘Evangelism and Discipleship: The God Who Calls, The God Who Sends’ we are reminded of the costly break with familiar living in the call of Abraham, Moses and the disciples and that evangelism is not merely recruiting for church membership but is also a summons to imagine a world very different from that in the narrative of the world of consumerism where people are disposable.

In Options for Creatureliness: Consumer or Citizen’ he contrasts contrasts consumers who “pat our bellies” in self-indulgence and citizens who “flex our brains.” After repeating what he has written elsewhere about the move from God as creator to the one who acts in history, by the likes of Von Rad, his talk of the dangers of consumerism as a life of self-preoccupation is cast in the light of Biblical citizenship which is one of being truly blessed givers.

The section ends with a chapter on ecumenism as the shared practice of a peculiar identity. ‘Ecumenism as the Shared Practice of a Peculiar Identity’ suggests that mainstream churches have much in common but don’t challenge the powers that be for wealth accumulation – then again, Christian Aid has managed to galvanise them on debt relief.

In ‘Vision for a New Church and a New Century: Part I: Homework against Scarcity’, he presents a vision of a community of disciples that is shaped by the Word, firstly by commissioning the disciples to fight against scarcity and then by describing how holiness becomes generosity.

In ‘Patriotism for Citizens of the Penultimate Superpower’, he remembers preaching in a Hungarian church where they sang their national anthem and then, to be polite, sang the American one. The contrast is between faith and aggression.

There’s too much repetition for my liking and he isn’t specific enough on examples of how the church can be counter-cultural – too many generalities.


The beginning point for this new collection of Walter Brueggemann’s essays is not new at all. It is where he always begins—with the text of Scripture. Few persons in our time have been more committed in theory and practice to the significance of the words of Scripture for faith and life, for our time and for all times. …

To speak of “the Word that redescribes the world,” using language appropriated from Paul Ricoeur, is to call attention to the fact that the biblical text functions among us as a “second thought,” coming after the initial description of our life in the world according to the dominant metanarrative of our society. …

It is more or less a given, by convention if not by conviction, that one must have a biblical text for a sermon. Sometimes the text is more than that, utterly absolutized. Often it is a lot less than that, a text read but not taken seriously.

Truth to power is a simple (simplistic?) model that almost no credible contemporary preacher can readily embrace, unless one is tenured, or at the end of a career, or has a reliable patron. Those who preside over insti­tutions with programs, budgets, and members filled with anxiety are not likely to practice, with any simplicity, the notion of truth to power. Perhaps most contemporary preachers are too well kept and too cowardly. We are, in our present circumstance, short of being a fugitive like Moses, short of being a raven-fed figure like Elijah, short of being on the royal payroll like Nathan, short of being clairvoyant like Daniel. No contemporary preacher is likely to speak truth to power like Moses, so clearly and so effectively that the utterance will dismantle an empire and free slaves. No contemporary preacher likely will crash the palace like Nathan to tell an indicting parable to the king.

Conversely, consider truth. There was a time when the church was a primal authority and the authority of the preacher was immense. There was a time when the preacher was the best-educated man in town. There was a time when issues were less complex; but not now. Now it is the case that truth has become democratized and secularized, and held in many quarters. Every preacher knows to pay attention when drawing near to the specialized learnings that are present among others in the congregation.

The narrative process maps the world of faith, the world of social power, the world of economic tension between labor and capital, between haves and have-nots, between power and powerlessness. It may also map familiar power grids in families and churches and seminaries. It may invite us to play all roles and every role and many roles in the narrative drama. We may listen as the one addressed or as the one sent. We may imagine ourselves as resistant to address or we may assume a new role for Pharaoh, willing to be addressed and repent, capable of imagining the Exodus narrative with a different outcome. Note well, in any case, that scribal refraction is not excessively “hot” about relevance. While the text, in our scribal imagina­tion, may send out lines of connection and allude to contemporaneity, for the most part the interpretation stays within the text and lets the listen­ing congregation stay within the text without being scolded or shamed or threatened.

The present moment is a splendid opportunity for rethinking the task of education and socialization of our young in the church. The church has suffered for a long time from timidity and collusion with dominant values in our culture. …

Ancient Israel in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is capable of thinking theologically about the future of the world and about the future destiny of individual persons. Its preferred and most characteristic mode of thought, however, is done through critical theological reflection about the community of Israel itself, …

The city is not a primal or intentional theme in the Bible. It is an incidental theme that surfaces only as a byproduct of other issues. Moreover, it is not likely that what is said about any ancient city, concrete or anticipatory, is directly pertinent to our urban issues. …

The God of the Gospel calls to praise and obedience. That is because, so we confess, that is the one true God who is the giver of all life, and who intends that all life should gladly be lived back to God. It is God’s rightful place to invite and expect such a turn back to God in joy and well-being. …

“The talk makes the walk possible, and the walk is to heal, to break all vicious cycles of diminishment that violate the intention of the creator”.

Classic ecumenism in the twentieth century has had to do with partnership and cooperation among established denominational traditions. These denominational groupings have tended to reflect centrist, mainline churches that, in their own particular spheres, exercised some theological hegemony. …

I have suggested that Jesus’ summons “Do not be anxious” (Luke 12:22) is an indispensable piece of homework for a sustainable economy of generosity and abundance. Without that homework in faith that commits to a conviction that there is enough, revolutionary or progressive economics has no chance. …

The “patriotism” that concerns the preacher is not a generic, one-size-fits-all category. Patriotism is state specific, and so the theme of this chapter is the patriotism of the United States of America as concerns U.S. preachers. …

It is most unfortunate that the so-called Documentary Hypothesis has been reduced to a scissors-and-paste explanation because, as later tradition history has made clear, the impulse of the Documen­tary Hypothesis is the recognition that the root tradition consists in lay­ers and layers of interpretation, since the root tradition never arrives at a final interpretation. Each subsequent interpretation, in a new time, place, and circumstance, and from a somewhat altered perspective, must re-say the tradition in a way now seen to be adequate and satisfying.

The two creation narratives of Genesis 1-3 attest that the origin character of the world as God’s creation cannot be voiced in only one way. More specifically, human persons and human community must be renarrated not only as image but as dust, not only as dust as image.

this cadenced recital is not user-friendly, but it shows how this tradition is rooted in violence that implicates both God and people. It is God who struck the firstborn and killed kings—eggs necessarily broken, one might say, for the omelet of emancipation and well-being,

At the outset, the city in the Bible is a Canaanite phenomenon, looked upon resentfully and fearfully by the Israelites who are a peasant, hill-country enterprise.

The city is a place of division of labor, with different social roles and consequently differ­ent social classes; stratification of power, with kings and their entourages on top of the heap; surplus value, in which the “upper class” urban elites lived off the produce of the peasants who themselves lived hand-to-mouth, pro­duce taken either by shrewd commercial transactions or by imposed, coercive taxation. The economy of the city was no longer aimed at use value, but at surplus that provided a cushion from the vagaries of life—a cushion for some, produced by the labor of others.

Eventually the city failed. The Jerusalem establishment of temple monarchy, and the ideology of self-importance and self-sufficiency self-security, turned out to be false. It may have fallen because of the external pressure of Babylon, or because of the internal failure of bad lea (see Ezekiel 34), or because of the spent quality of YHWH’s lo patience, exhausted by the endless recalcitrance of the city. But for ever reason, the city failed.

In my opinion, this is the same pregnant moment in which ourselves in urban America. I speak of course metaphorically and imaginatively, but here, too, the royal city that specializes in acquisitiveness, that has banished the countervoice of Abiathar, has failed. The failure of communal relations and the failure of consensus meaning are evident, the power of acquisitiveness can sustain itself only for a while, perhaps a long while; but it does so without moral credibility. And so I suggest that in ­public imagination, the church and its pastors must situate themselves at this pregnant moment of failure and loss.

Israel can only wait, for in the psalm there is no answer. But in this prayer test and petition, Israel has told the truth about the city and about YHWH, about misery and need….Suffering produces hope (Rom. 5:3-5), but not just any suffering. Sufferin that is recognized, admitted, voiced, and enacted produces hope. We do not know why, but it is so. Suffering denied and unarticulated produces numbness and irrational rage. Israel knew that. And so, I propose a second response to the failed city of Jerusalem, second not first. It is a season rich, exuberant, imaginative hope for a restored, new Jerusalem. But the new one requires the complete relinquishment of the one that is gone…… Nehemiah institutes severe financial reform that pertains to the rich
charging interest to the poor (Nehemiah 5). There will be no new city unlessthere is a neighborly form of debt management. Ezra insists on sabbath (Neh. 13:15-22). The sabbath observation goes deep to root identity and asserts that the new city is not about acquisitive­ness; the community in sabbath is disengaged from the production-con­sumption game….

I spoke with a Presbyterian layperson in Atlanta about the city. He told me that in growing up, his father had a shop down­, next to Rich’s department store. After school, he often went to his father’s shop, and often the two of them went to Rich’s for a Coca-Cola. It a wonderful happening, even more wonderful in memory. But now Rich’s is gone, replaced by a bank. The old city that centered in Rich’s is no more. And he said, “When I see it or think of it, I am enraged and sad at the loss.” We talked about relinquishing a city that is no more. Out of much thought and prayer, he told me, one day he drove down and parked across the street from where Rich’s and his father’s shop had been. He sat in the car and cried. Cried long, cried bitterly, cried for what was and is not, cried over a city now reduced to banks and exploitative labor, cried a lost shop and a lost family and a lost world. And then, he told me, he started his car. He drove to his suburban urch. And for the first time, he signed up to work the soup kitchen, to contribute modestly to a new urban possibility.

“Thou shalt not make graven images,” a refusal to be commodified a denial that the free rule of God can be turned into a market fetish to be bought and sold, a refusal that holiness should be reduced manageable handleable, salable goods (Exod. 20:4).

That same commanding voice, after declaring the holiness of and the sanctity of the neighbor (kill, adultery, steal), culminates the tenth assertion, “thou shalt not covet” (Exod. 20:17). This mandate against coveting is not a little psychology lesson about e is rather the Creator’s curb of acquisitiveness, the endless temp to reduce social relations to market transactions.

the entire passover provision of Exodus 12-13 is quite specific and self-conscious about liturgical detail. It is clear, nonetheless, that the primary intention of the narrative and the liturgy is to construct a counter-world whereby pharaoh’s totalizing power and totalizing explanation of reality are regularly defeated. The Israelite boy or girl is invited to live in a social reality where pharaoh’s abusive power does not prevail.

And while there are important historical-critical issues, we may here mention Daniel,  wherein the self-aware Jew Daniel negotiates his way ugh the civil service of Babylon by a refusal of the rich food of the empire and a reliance upon the simplicities of a Jewish diet. The refusal of food from the empire is linked to his being embedded in a particular exilic sense of identity.

The practice of debt cancellation stands in deep opposi­tion to the imperial economy, which is a practice of hierarchical power and social stratification. This provision stands at the center of Deuteronomy, a script designed to distinguish Israel from Assyrian possibility. This provision is more than simply a legal regulation. It is a remarkable exploration of a social possibility that is clearly unthinkable in the empire. The empire stands or falls with the administration of debt, for it is debt that distinguishes the powerful and the have-nots.

Israel as an intentional counter-community articulated a covenantal ethic neighborliness as an alternative to the commoditization of social relation­ships it sensed in imperial practice.

Deuteronomy makes one of its foci “widows and orphans,” that is, the paradigmatic power­less and vulnerable in society. The Israelite ethic urged here, alternative to imperial rapaciousness, is precisely concerned for those without resources or leverage to maintain and protect themselves.

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To the Wedding by John Berger

All his stuff is interesting.

ttw3The story begins as a narrative within a narrative from the point of view of a blind —tamata  (small metal plaques, which may be of base or precious metal, usually with an embossed image symbolizing the subject of prayer for which the plaque is orthodox churches) peddler, who first encounters Ninon’s father when he wants to buy a tamata for his daughter, Ninon, who is suffering ‘everywhere’. The novel abruptly shifts its perspective to Ninon’s story. Ninon, a young woman in her 20s, meets a man working at a restaurant.  Reluctantly, she allows herself to be seduced and they end up making love the same day. They part, and she visits the restaurant again the following day only to hear from the chef that the man was an escaped convict and had been arrested by the police. The narrative is splintered to include the journey of Ninon’s father and mother to her wedding. Ninon travels around Europe and, on a visit to a museum, encounters Gino. They become devoted lovers, and in one memorable occasion break open a shack with their love-making. During the course of their relationship, Ninon notices sores on her lips and decides to see a doctor when they do not heal. To her shock, the doctor tells her that she has AIDS. She realizes that the man at the restaurant was the one who gave the disease to her and feels bitter and angry. She breaks off communication with Gino who is frantic to speak with her. Eventually, she explains to Gino that she has AIDS, expecting rebuke and disgust, but to her surprise, Gino proposes marriage. The lovers manage to create meaning in their lives in the face of approaching death.

It’s a story of life’s transience, of terrible things happening to innocent people There are two ways of responding to such injustices, the first being a religious practice, as exemplified by the narrator who sells “tomatas” at the beginning of the story to ward off evil happenings. The second is simply to realize that bad things happen to good people and to celebrate the present moment, the climax of this attitude being, of course, the wedding of two ordinary people.
The wedding guests become “a creature half mythical like a satyr with thirty heads. It only lives a day or two, and is reborn when there’s something to be celebrated”. This promise of happiness, and that’s all it is, a “promise” is further intensified by the food (the sacrificial lamb) and by the band which plays loud “to keep out the din of the world.” The characters oppose the darkness of an amoral and uncaring world by finding meaning in the tasks they do. Despite its dark subject matter, the tone is one of hope and triumph by the end of the book.

The landscape imagery of the novel is consistently one of a wasteland. Jean Ferrero, Ninon’s father, travels on his motorbike through vast landscapes and impenetrable darkness. As he nears his ultimate destination, his daughter’s wedding, the landscape becomes steadily more bleak – he is getting closer and closer to a void. However, even at the uttermost edge of the void, at the end of the novel, all the characters manage to find meaning.

TTWThematic Significance of Secondary Characters

  • The Blind Man: He understands the meaning behind small actions. He is able to overcome his disability.
  • Jean: He is able to overcome his own personal demons through coming to terms with his daughter’s inevitable death through the wedding ceremony and the journey to the wedding.dena: She assigns meaning to the smallest of actions, such as sleeping on her daughter’s bed. She repeatedly organizes the contents of her handbag before going to the wedding. This is her ‘task’, establishing order in her handbag.
  • Bird Call Makers: They attribute meaning to the bird call devices they sell. Zdena gives the devices to her daughter to create meaning in her life.
  • Tomas: He takes on small tasks such as taxi driving and postcards. He instantly forges a deep friendship with Zdena, and even though they know they must part in a short while, they both savor the time they have together while it lasts.

ttw2“Blindness is like a cinema, coz its eyes are not on either side of a nose but wherever the story demands.”

“When Zdena laughed it was like discovering a tree was still alive, although it had no leaves coz it was winter.”

“Thrushes look as if they’ve just taken a dust bath but they sing like survivors- like a swimmer who swam for it through the water and made it to the safe side of the night and flew into the tree to shake the drops from his back and announce: I’m here”

“Land is getting flatter, losing its folds like a tablecloth smoothed out by the hand of an old woman. In her other hand she holds plates and knives and forks. As the land gets flatter and flatter, its distances increase till a man feels very small.”

“The city is being announced by huge, printed or flashing words. Some syllables are so large that they seem to be deafening.”

“The laugh belongs to the body, not a joke. A laugh like a cape thrown over the shoulders of the words being spoken.”

“There may be despair particularly that of boredom, or the sudden mortal rage of fatigue. But the threat of the future as something different recedes. Every day leads to the next which is more or less the same.”

“The water was flat, only when it came up against something it wasn’t carrying away at its own speed, did it form a wave.”

“In small towns where the skyline hides nothing, they wait for moments during which life counts. Time here is often like time for athletes who prepare for months or years for a performance that lasts less than a minute.”

“He has the striking leanness that sometimes goes with percussion. To play a battery well, a man listens to silence, until it splits itself open into rhythms, eventually into every conceivable rhythm. It does this because time is not a flow but a sequence of pulses. Listening to that silence often makes a man’s body thin.”

“When time is pulse as music makes it, eternity is in the gaps between.”

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Right to Die? John Wyatt

Support for assisted suicide is growing. I have mixed feelings but Lord Carey is in favour and I oppose most things he says. On the other hand, Michael Wenham, whom I respect, is opposed.


RTDThis book does not presume any medical knowledge as it seeks to help lay people understand the debate.

The arguments in favour of the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia are no longer focussed on unbearable suffering. Instead there is a rising demand for choice and control over the time and manner of our death, coupled with fears about the social and economic consequences of increasing numbers of elderly and dependent individuals.

Although fear of pain is widespread, it has become apparent that with appropriate levels of medical expertise and palliative care resources, pain can be controlled. With skilled care and expertise no-one need die in agony. Now the central issue is the right to self-determination, and the diseases in focus are no longer cancer, but chronic debilitating neurodegenerative conditions such as motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis.

The author traces the history of euthanasia. Nazi Germany spoke of those who were ‘of no slightest use to society.’ 60% in the UK supported the Voluntary Euthanasia Society when it was founded in 1936. While the Netherlands allowed it for incurable pain, Oregon allowed as individual to decide if he thought his life was worth living.

Cicely Saunders and many other pioneers of palliative care in the middle of the 20th century were motivated by Christian compassion to find ways of controlling physical and other forms of pain at the end of life. They discovered that, with skilled modern medical care, ‘it’s not necessary to kill the patient in order to kill the pain’.

The demographic time bomb of increasing life expectancy is set to unleash new social forces. There is a nightmarish vision of the future, in which large numbers of isolated and abandoned elderly people are kept alive to suffer a pointless, lonely and degrading existence, thanks to improvements in medical care. Then there are spiralling healthcare costs, particularly at the end of life, with every medical advance bringing new and more expensive treatments. How can health planners find a way to control their runaway budgets?

All this is exacerbated by the growing epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. According to current predictions, someone born now has a one-in-three chance of developing some form of dementia in their lifetime. Martin Amis argues ‘There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants… I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years’ time.’

He is fair to his opponents in that he accept that they act out of genuine, if misguided, compassion.

Both Christian teaching and common humanity demand that we respond with compassion to ‘the desperate cries for help of terminally ill patients’.

But is killing the best practical and compassionate response that is available? Can’t practical compassion drive us instead to the provision of expert pain relief, psychological and spiritual support, and human companionship through the terminal phases of illness?

Palliative care is better than ever before, though one of my former pupils, a Roman Catholic, argued passionately that his mother died in agony despite this. However, the author accepts that not all hospitals do palliative care well.

The development of palliative care, pioneered almost entirely by Christian believers, is a striking demonstration of the belief that the process of dying need not be one of devastating loss and despair. The wellspring of modern palliative care was a Christian understanding of a good death. The goal of the pioneers was not only to help people to die well but also to help them live more fully before they died. The practical daily experience of all those who care for the terminally ill is that dying well can be an opportunity for personal growth, for self-discovery, and for the restoration and reconciliation of broken relationships

With a culture of increased patient participation, the introduction of the Patient Charter and the Mental Capacity Act of 2005, modern medical care is increasingly driven and controlled by patient choice. Why, if we have such choices about the rest of our lives, do we not have choice about the timing and manner of our death? Why, if we allow a mentally competent adult to refuse life-sustaining treatment, do we not allow that same adult to choose treatment which will bring about their death, within well-defined safeguards?

At its most fundamental, Christian love says to every person ‘It’s good that you exist, it’s good that you are in the world’, to use the words of the philosopher Josef Pieper. The problem with euthanasia and assisted suicide is that in effect they say precisely the opposite: ‘It’s bad that you exist. It would be much better if you were not in the world,’

It’s a shame that he resorts to quoting from that child’s bible, the NIV.

There is some repetition.

I would have found an index helpful.


There should be a way out for rational people who have decided they are in the negative. That should be available and it should be easy. ….There should be a booth on every corner where you could get a martini and a medal. Martin Amis

‘When suffering is so great that some patients, already knowing that they are at the end of life, make repeated pleas to die, it seems a denial of that loving compassion which is the hallmark of Christianity to refuse to allow them to fulfil their own clearly stated request– after, of course, a proper process of safeguards has been observed. If we truly love our neighbours as ourselves, how can we deny them the death that we would wish for ourselves in such a condition? That is what I would want… .’  George Carey

Just as we can’t escape being confronted with death and dying in our personal lives, so also in the public arena these topics have taken on a strategic importance. Scarcely a week goes by without another high-profile media story highlighting the inadequacies of end-of-life care in our health services, or the tragic story of an individual who committed suicide to escape the suffering and indignity of a terminal illness. Some of those real-life stories feature in the subsequent chapters.

Sophisticated campaigning organizations across the world are using these personal tragedies as the driving force to change the law to allow various forms of medical killing. Their efforts seem to have been highly effective in influencing public opinion in favour of legislation for medically assisted suicide. In the UK, assisted suicide has been the topic of repeated high-profile debates in Parliament, and some have concluded that the pressure for a change in the law has become irresistible. Several prominent Christian leaders, including the previous Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have publicly stated that they have changed their minds. They are arguing that we have a specifically Christian duty to provide the option of a quick and painless suicide for those who request it at the end of life.

So what are the forces that are driving this demand for a change in the law? Is it about individual choice and control over our lives – what philosophers refer to as ‘autonomy’? Or is it about the prevention of suffering? Should medical killing be restricted only to those with terminal illness, or to all who are facing hopeless and unbearable suffering? Is it possible to construct a law which has an internal logical consistency and is at the same time robust and safe in practice?

Definitions are important because debates about medical killing have always been bedevilled by the deliberate use of ambiguous and euphemistic phrases such as ‘the right to die’, ‘assisted dying’, ‘easeful death’, ‘death with dignity’, ‘choice and control over how we die’.

All proposed changes in primary legislation have attempted to introduce medical killing under what are described as ‘strictly controlled legal safeguards’. For instance, Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying Bill of 2005 stated that the individual must meet a range of criteria. In order to qualify for PAS individuals must a) be an adult who is legally competent; b) have a medically confirmed terminal condition with a limited life expectancy of six months or less; c) be suffering unbearably, which was defined as ‘suffering, whether by reason of pain, distress or otherwise, which the patient finds so severe as to be unacceptable’; and d) have expressed a ‘persistent wish to die’.

As Nigel Biggar has argued, the notion that we are all rational choosers is a flattering lie told us by people who want to sell us something. The uncomfortable truth is that much of the time we are influenced and motivated by social and psychological forces that we barely understand.

The removal of legal sanctions on those who made an unsuccessful attempt at suicide was an act of compassion towards the despairing and desperate. Suicide is only tolerated, it is not promoted as an aspect of individual freedom. The Suicide Act of 1961 enshrined the serious criminal offence of ‘a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another’. But over time legal toleration may be increasingly perceived as a matter of individual liberty. The current debates about prosecutions under the law of assisted suicide, including recent guidance issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions that ‘compassionate motivation’ on behalf of the perpetrator will be seen as mitigating the offence of assisting suicide, may have the effect of undermining the intention of legislation. But as Professor John Keown has written in this context, ‘Justice should be tempered with mercy; not undermined by it.’

It is common to find elderly people who are concerned that they are becoming an unwanted burden on their relatives and carers. Desiring to act responsibly and altruistically, they may come to perceive that it would be better for everybody if their life ended. There is a deep irony that the elderly people most sensitive to the needs and concerns of others are most at risk from manipulative arguments from false responsibility. Implicit social acceptance of assisted suicide could easily result in the perception of an implicit duty to die. As Professor Nigel Biggar has said, the legalisation of assisted suicide will make society more liberal at the expense of making it less humane.

Cicero, the prominent Stoic philosopher, wrote: ‘When a man’s circumstances contain a preponderance of things in accordance with nature, it is appropriate for him to remain alive; when he possesses or sees in prospect a majority of the contrary things, it is appropriate for him to depart from life.’

Mary Warnock has argued in favour of medical killing as a responsible option and not only in cases where pain is insufferable: ‘If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service. …if somebody absolutely, desperately, wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.’

But in all cultures influenced by the Christian revelation, suicide has been opposed. It is never glorified in the Bible but instead is seen as act of hopelessness and despair, for example in the tragic ends of King Saul, the first king of Israel, and Judas Iscariot. Despite this, it is clear that suicidal thoughts are not uncommon in God’s people. Elijah wanted to die, but was sent on a sabbatical instead. Jeremiah wishes he had died in his mother’s womb but discovers that God has plans for welfare and not for evil, to give ‘a future and a hope’. Job, too, wishes he had never been born, but learns that God is infinitely greater than his own perceptions.

So suicidal thoughts are not unusual in God’s people, but suicide itself is not to be honoured and glorified, because human life is worth more than that. Both intentional killing and suicide are ultimately contrary to the Christian understanding of creation. Even when tempted to kill out of compassion, we come up against the limits of our creatureliness.

As ethicist Stanley Hauerwas points out, for most of us the initial reaction to witnessing suffering in another human being is to be repelled. Suffering tends to turn the other into a stranger. ‘Suffering makes people’s otherness stand out in strong relief.’ Yet suffering in another human being is a call to the rest of us to stand in community. It is a call to be there. ‘It is the burden of those who care for the suffering to know how to teach the suffering that they are not thereby excluded from the human community. In this sense medicine’s primary role is to bind the suffering and the non-suffering into the same community.’The sad reality is that, so often, modern medical and healthcare systems have precisely the opposite effect, as they isolate and marginalise the suffering.

The Hippocratic Oath, which originated several centuries before Christ, explicitly ruled out both euthanasia and PAS. ‘I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgement, but I will never use it to injure or wrong them. I will not give poison to anyone though asked to do so, neither will I suggest such a plan…’.

The Hippocratic tradition of medical practice drew a clear distinction between healing and harming. In most societies of the time the doctor and the sorcerer tended to be the same person. He with the power to kill had the power to cure. But the Hippocratic physicians dedicated themselves to the protection of life under all circumstances, regardless of rank, age, or intellect – the life of a slave, the life of the Emperor, the life of the immigrant. For more than 2,000 years the medical profession has attempted to maintain the distinction between killing and curing, framing itself publicly as a profession dedicated solely to the preservation of human life ‘under all circumstances’. It is part of the special calling, the medical vocation which doctors perceive in their protection of life. Hence doctors have refused to participate in judicial execution, in killing on the battlefield, in the torture of prisoners, and the use of drugs to control political dissidents.

As many who have gone before us have found, the end of our lives on this earth may be transformed by God’s grace into an opportunity for growth and internal healing.

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As Meat Loves Salt Maria McCann

AMLS 2While we worry about the advance of ISIL DAESH, we do well to remember that England used to be in the grip of religious people who killed in the name of their god.

It is a gripping portrait of England beset by war. It is also a moving portrait of a man on the brink of madness.

It is narrated by a brooding, intermittently violent young man named Jacob who does not know himself. In flight from a murder and a brief, disastrous marriage, he joins Cromwell’s New Model Army, from which he and his new friend, Ferris, eventually go AWOL. It isn’t until halfway through the novel that Jacob realizes, and we realize, that the tension between the two men is sexual, and they embark on a torrid affair. Yet in the 1640s, the mild, accepting term “gay” had yet to be coined; bookshops didn’t have whole sections cheerfully devoted to “gay literature.” Rather, homosexuality was a hanging offense. Jacob and Ferris’ passionate, fractious relationship courts calamity.

In the seventeenth century, the English Revolution is under way. The nation, seething with religious and political discontent, has erupted into violence and terror. Jacob Cullen and his fellow soldiers dream of rebuilding their lives when the fighting is over. But the shattering events of war will overtake them.
A darkly erotic tale of passion and obsession,

The world of this “gay” novel is far removed from the comfortable modern one in which such books command their own section in bookshops. In Cromwellian England, homosexuality was a hanging offence, and the lovers’ fierce, obsessive relations are whetted by risk. Aptly, each man struggles for dominance over the other, much as royalist and parliamentary forces struggle for England.

After reading Psalm 115, which had been cited by Cromwell in his address to the troops before the assault on Basing, Jacob reflects on its meaning, “We were to leave them like unto their idols, utterly unable to see, hear, smell, touch, walk,” and then thinks, “I knew what it was to send a soul down into silence.”

If Jacob is “The Bad Angel,” Ferris personifies the good one, moderate and thoughtful, respectful of the feelings of others. Ferris hopes to teach Jacob the finer points of self-control and temperance, although Jacob is single-mindedly incapable of subtlety. Yet Ferris is himself seduced by Jacob’s dark desire until they are engaged in a constant struggle for dominance. Part love story, part exploration of the darkness at the heart of a man’s soul, this novel tackles the most difficult aspects of human nature, exposing the many sides of love/obsession. Engaged in a battle between Heaven and Hell, consumed by their endless erotic adventures, Jacob and Ferris’ humanity is stripped to its bare bones and the author dares the reader to flinch.

Ferris, however, is an atheist. It’s interesting to note that this long ago there were people who used religious language to describe their secular hopes to build a new Jerusalem.

The title comes from a Jewish story: Many years ago in Poland, there lived a rabbi who had a wife and three daughters. One day, the rabbi asks his children a powerful question: “How much do you love me?” His older daughters profess their love in gold and diamonds, but his youngest daughter, Mireleh, declares she loves her father the way meat loves salt. For this remark, she is banished from her father’s home.

Apparently, McCann was a schoolteacher when she wrote this novel, and used to get up at 5 a.m. every weekday to write a few more pages. As one reviewer said: There were times when I could almost smell the putridness of the battlefield, the fragrance of splendidly cooked game in Ferris’ Cheapside home and the filth of the sweaty, unwashed colonists as they vainly toiled away for their New Jerusalem.
AMLS 3Quotations:

On the morning we dragged the pond for Patience White, I bent so far down trying to see beneath the surface that my own face peered up at me, twisted and frowning. The three of us had churned up the water until it was half mud and spattered with flecks of weed before I knocked my foot against something loose and heavy that lolled about as we splashed. I tried to push it away from us, but too late.

‘It is she.’ Izzy’s lips were drawn back from his teeth.

I shook my head. ‘That’s a log.’

‘No, Jacob – here, here-‘

He seized my hand and plunged it in the water near his right leg. My heart fairly battered my ribs. I touched first his ankle, then wet cloth wound tight around something which moved.

‘I think that’s an arm,’ Izzy said quietly.

‘I think it is, Brother.’ Feeling along it, I found cold slippery flesh, which I levered upwards to the air. It was certainly an arm, and at the end of it a small hand, wrinkled from the water. I heard My Lady, standing on the bank, cry out, ‘Poor girl, poor girl!’

Zebedee reached towards the freckled fingers. ‘That’s never – Jacob, do you not see?’

‘Quiet.’ I had no need of his nudging, for I knew what we had hold of. Ever since we had been ordered to drag the pond I had been schooling myself for this.

‘You forget the rope,’ called Godfrey from the warm safety of the bank.

I looked round and saw the end of it trailing in the water on the other side of the pond, while we floundered. ‘Fetch it, can’t you?’ I asked him.

He pursed his lips and did not move. A mere manservant like me must not speak thus peremptorily to a steward, though he were hanging by his fingernails from a cliff.

‘Be so kind as to fetch it, Godfrey,’ put in the Mistress.

Frowning, the steward took up the wet rope.

The pond at Beaurepair had a runway sloping down into it on one side, made in past times to let beasts down into the water. It was coated with cracked greenish mud, which stank more foully than the pond itself. We grappled, splashing and squelching, to drag the thing to the bottom of this slope, then Zeb and I crawled to the top, our shirts and breeches clinging heavily to us. Having forgotten to take off my shoes, I felt them all silted up. Izzy, who lacked our strength, stayed in the water to adjust the ties.

‘Pull,’ he called.

Zeb and I seized an end of rope each and leant backwards. Our weight moved the body along by perhaps two feet.

‘Come, Jacob, you can do better than that,’ called Sir John, as if we were practising some sport. I wondered how much wine he had got down his throat already.

‘Her clothes must be sodden,’ said Godfrey. He came over and joined Zeb on the line, taking care to stand well away from my brother’s dripping garments. ‘Or she’s caught on something-‘

There was a swirl in the water and a sucking noise. Izzy leapt back.

The body sat up, breaking the surface. I saw a scalp smeared with stiffened hair. Then it plunged forwards as if drunk, sprawling full length in the shallower waters at the base of the runway. I descended again and took it under the arms, wrestling it up the slope until it lay face to the sky. The mouth was full of mud.

‘You see?’ whispered Zeb, wiping his brow.

The corpse was not that of Patience Hannah White. Our catch was a different fish entirely: Christopher Walshe, late of this parish, who up to now had not even been missed.

‘He is the servant of Mr Biggin, Madam.’ Godfrey tried yet again, his beard wagging up and down. ‘One of the stableboys at Champains.’

The Mistress pressed her veiny hands together. ‘But why? Where is Patience?’

‘Not in the pond. Not in the pond, which is as good news as the death of this young man is sad,’ fluttered Godfrey. ‘Might I suggest, Madam, that it were good for you to lie down? Let me take the matter entirely in hand. I will send the youngest Cullen to Champains and Jacob shall lay out the body.’

My Lady nodded her permission and went to shut herself up in her chamber. Sir John, ever our help in time of trouble, made for the study where he had doubtless some canary wine ready broached.

My brothers walking on either side, I cradled the dead boy in my arms as far as the laundry, and there laid him on a table.

‘Directly I saw the hand, I knew,’ said Zeb, staring at him. He pushed back the slimy hair from Walshe’s face, and shuddered. ‘It must have been after the reading. Two nights, pickling in there!’

‘A senseless thing,’ said Izzy. ‘He went out the other way, we all of us waved him farewell.’

Zeb nodded. ‘And not in drink. Was he?’

‘Not that I saw,’ I said. ‘Unless you gave him it.’

Izzy and Zeb exchanged glances.

‘Well, did you?’ I challenged.

‘You know he did not,’ said Izzy. ‘Come lads, no quarrels.’

‘I have yet to say a harsh word,’ Zeb protested.

In silence we took off our filthy garments in the laundry and washed away the mud from our flesh. Izzy gasped in lifting the wet shirt over his head and I guessed that his back was paining him.

‘Thank God Patience was not in there.’ Zeb, drying himself on a linen cloth, shivered. ‘But this lad! Poor Chris, poor boy. Suppose we had not looked?’

‘You were wise to leave off your shoes. I fear mine are ruined,’ I said.

‘Dear brother, that is scarce a catastrophe here,’ Izzy replied. He found a basket of clean shirts and tossed one in my direction. ‘That’ll keep you decent until we can get back to our own chamber.’

‘Godfrey could have bidden Caro bring clothes down for us,’ said Zeb. ‘What are stewards for, if not to make others work?’

‘I would not have Caro see this,’ I said.

‘What, the three of us in our shirts?’ asked Zeb.

‘You tempt God by jesting,’ said Izzy. He limped over to the boy and stood a while looking at him. ‘Suppose it had been Patience? I would not be you in that case.’

Zeb started. ‘The Mistress doesn’t know, does she?’

‘No, but it is the first thing thought on if a lass be found drowned,’ Izzy replied.

Zeb considered. ‘But there were no signs – if I remarked nothing – if any man had the chance, that man was I-‘ He broke off, his cheeks colouring.

Izzy crossed the room and took him by the shoulders. ‘They can cut them open and look inside.’

‘Are we in a madhouse? Cut what? Look at what?’ I cried.

The two of them turned exasperated faces upon me.

‘Ever the last to know,’ said Zeb. ‘So Caro has told you nothing?’

‘Our brother has been hard at work, Jacob,’ said Izzy. ‘Patience is with child.’

So that was the key to their mysterious talk: Patience with child by Zeb. The great secret, taken at its worth, was hardly astonishing – I had been watching Zeb and Patience dance the old dance for some time – yet I was riled at not having been told.

‘Two days and not in the pond. She is run away for sure,’ said Zeb. ‘But why, why now?’

‘Shame?’ I ventured – though to be sure, shame and Patience White were words scarce ever heard together, except when folk shook their heads and said she had none.

‘She would not have been shamed. Zeb agreed to marry her,’ said Izzy.

‘What!’ I cried. ‘Zeb, you’re the biggest fool living.’

‘I like her, Jacob,’ protested my brother.

‘Oh? And would you like her for a sister?’

Zeb was silenced. What he liked, I thought, was the place between her legs, for what else was there? We would be all of us better off without Patience. It was impossible any should miss her braying laugh; for myself, I had always found her an affliction. She was Caro’s fellow maidservant and a mare long since broken in, most likely by Peter, who worked alongside us and was roughly of an age with Zeb. Patience and Peter, now there was a match: loud, foolish, neither of them able to read, neither caring to do so. I had a strong dislike to Peter’s countenance, which was both freckled and pimply and seemed to me unclean, yet I was obliged to admit that in many ways he showed himself not a bad-hearted lad, for he worked hard and was ready to lend and to share. I much preferred him to Patience, whose constant aim was to draw men in.

She had tried it once with me, when I was not yet twenty. Coming through the wicket gate with a basket of windfalls from the orchard, I found her in my way.

‘That’s a heavy load you’ve got,’ she said.

‘Move then,’ I told her. ‘Let me lay it down,’ for my shoulders were aching.

‘An excellent notion,’ Patience said, ‘to lay a thing down on the grass.’

She had never before fastened on me, and though I knew her even then for a whore I was slow to take her meaning. My coat was off for the heat, and Patience put her fingers on my arm.

‘You could give a lass a good squeeze, eh?’ She pressed my shoulder so that I felt her warm palm through my shirt. ‘I’m one that squeezes back. I wager you’ll like it.’

‘I wager I won’t,’ I said. ‘I’ve no call for the pox. Now let me through or you’ll feel my arm another way.’

For some time after that we did not speak, but servants must rub along somehow – they have enough to do coddling the whims of their masters – and besides, I think Izzy said something to soften her. Since then we had behaved together civilly, as our work required. Peter was come next, I was pretty sure, and had consoled her for Jacob; but she could never have engaged Zeb’s interest had there been a comelier woman in the house. There was Caro, of course; but Caro was mine.

Caro. Against Patience’s slovenly dress and coarse speech, my darling girl shone like virgin snow. Naturally, there were huffs and quarrels between the two.

‘She’s lewd as a midwife,’ Caro complained to me once. ‘Forever snuffling after us: does he do this, does he do that.’

But I was no Zeb. I treated Caro always with the respect which is due from a lover and never assumed the privileges of a husband. Thus I again thwarted Patience by my self-command.

Self-command was the unknown word to my brother, and could have put no brake on his doings. Foolish indulgence had ruined Zebedee. He was only four when Father died, and missed a guiding hand all the more in that his beauty tempted our mother to spoil him.

‘Zeb must go on with his lute,’ she announced, when it was clear we had scarce a hat between us. To be just, he played well, and looked well even when he played out of tune. We Cullen men are all like Sir Thomas Fairfax, dark-skinned to a fault, but the fault shows comely in Zeb because of his graceful make and his very brilliant eyes. I have seen women, even women of quality, look at him as if they lacked only the bread to make a meal of him there and then – and Zeb, not one whit abashed, return the look.

I lack his charm. Though I am like him in skin and hair, my face is altogether rougher and my eyes are grey. I am, however, the tallest man I know, and the strongest – stronger than Isaiah and Zeb put together. Not that Izzy has much strength to add to Zeb’s, for my elder brother came into the world twisted and never grew right afterwards. ‘Izzy gave me such a long, hard bringing to bed,’ my mother said more than once, ‘you may thank God that you were let to be born at all.’

Now Zeb was to go to Champains, as being the best rider and also the most personable of the menservants. I did not begrudge him the job, for I rode very ill and was generally sore all the next day. My own task was humbler, but not without its interest: to clean the boy’s body for his master to see it, and for the surgeon. This cleaning should rather be a woman’s work, but I was glad to do it for otherwise, Patience being gone, it would fall entirely upon Caro. In the chamber we dressed according to our allotted duty, Zeb taking a well-brushed cassock and some thick new breeches for riding, myself pulling on an old pair over a worn shirt.

‘Just wait, we will be suspected for this,’ Zeb said to me, combing out his hair. ‘You especially.’


‘You quarrelled with him that night.’

‘I wouldn’t call it a quarrel,’ I protested. ‘We disagreed over his pamphlets, what of that?’

‘Jacob is right,’ said Izzy. ‘Hardly a drowning matter.’

Zeb ignored him. ‘It will put off your betrothal, Jacob.’

Izzy turned to me. ‘Take no notice. He wants only to tease, when he should be examining his accounts before God.’

‘What!’ Zeb was stung in his turn. ‘Patience isn’t dead, nor did I send her away. I heard her news kindly, sour though it was.’

‘So why would she leave?’ I pressed him.

He shrugged. ‘Another sweetheart?’

Izzy and I exchanged sceptical looks. Like all beautiful and fickle persons, Zeb aroused a desperate loyalty in others.

‘Are you not afraid for her, with a boy found drowned?’ Izzy demanded.

Zeb cried, ‘Yes! Yes! But what can fear do?’ He buttoned up the sides of his cassock. ‘Best not think on it.’

‘Think on your duty to her,’ said Izzy.

Zeb grinned. ‘Let us turn our thoughts rather to Jacob’s betrothal. Now there everything is proper. A little bird tells me, Jacob, that Caro has been asking the other maids about the wedding night.’

‘Away, Lechery,’ said Izzy, ‘and mend your thoughts, lest God strike you down on the road.’

Swaggering in boots, Zeb departed for the stables.

‘Talking of my wedding night and his friend dead downstairs! He’s as shameless as his whore,’ I fumed.

‘He is always thus when he is unhappy.’ Izzy spoke softly. ‘His weeping will be done on the road to Champains.’

I snorted.

As a child I was afraid of the laundry with its hollow-sounding tubs. When later I courted Caro I did it mostly in the stillroom amid the perfume of herbs and wines, or – in fine weather – in the rosemary maze. The room where Walshe lay had a smell of mould and greasy linen, and as a rule I avoided it, not a difficult thing to do for men’s work rarely brought them there.

I dragged off the boy’s wet clothing and arranged him naked on the table. The silt in his mouth looked as if, stifled in mud, he had tried to gorge on it. I let his head droop from the table-end into a bucket of water and swabbed out his mouth with my fingers before squeezing more water through his hair.

When I bent down to check the ears for mud, I saw the nape of his neck strangely blackened, so rolled him onto his side. What I found gave me pause. Great bruises darkened the back of his neck, his thighs and the base of his spine, as if blood was come up to the skin. Perhaps all drowned men were thus marked. Pulling him face upwards again, I then worked down the body to his feet, which were wrinkled and colourless, hateful to the touch. As I went, I dried him on linen sheets found in one of the presses. Caro would be angry with me for that but she must bear it patiently unless she wanted to lay out the corpse herself. That I would not permit, for the thought of her tears unnerved me.

My thoughts being troubled, I was glad to work alone. The turning and lifting came easy to a man of my strength, for he might be sixteen and was as small and light as I was big and heavy. Little warrior. He lay utterly helpless beneath my hands.

‘Where is your knife?’ I asked.

The skin of his breast shone pale as cream where the flesh was unhurt. I stroked it and ran my hand down one of the thighs. So slender, so unformed. No glory in dispatching such. And no defence to say the Voice had urged me on.

Going to the stillroom for bandages, I found some ready torn. First I packed the boy’s fundament, stuffing him tight. Next I bound up his jaw, and weighted down the eyelids with coins. He might as well be laid out for immediate burial, as there would be precious little for the surgeon to discover. Even a natural, I thought, could see what had done for this young man.

Christopher Walshe had been slit from above the navel to where his pale hair thickened for manhood at the base of the belly. The belly itself showed faintly green. The wound was deep, and, now I had rinsed it free of brownish water, a very clean and open one, for the blood had drained off into the pond like wine into a soup, leaving no scab or cleaving together of the flesh. Walshe had a boy’s waist and hips, without any padding of fat to take off the ferocity of the blade, which had pulled right through his guts. His ribs and shoulders were dappled, in places, with blue.

There would be more bruising around his feet and ankles. I examined them, and found long bluish marks which might give the surgeon a hint, unless it were concluded that he had scuffled foot to foot with someone.

I put my finger into the wound. The edges curved a little outwards like the petals of a rose, and after an initial tension my finger slid in full length. He was cold and slippery inside. I withdrew the finger and wiped it on my breeches.

In the scullery every servant, even my gentle Izzy, was grown surly. That was a sign I recognised and had interpreted before I was given the news.

‘Sir Bastard is come home,’ said Peter, who had not been present at the pond-dragging and now stared sulkily at the table.

I groaned. Sir Bastard, or to give him his proper name, Mervyn Roche, was the son and heir and so disliked as to make Sir John popular in comparison.

‘Will he stay long?’ I asked. Much as I hated Mervyn, this once I was glad enough to talk of him, for I dreaded giving a report of the boy’s wounds and seeing the horrified faces of my fellows.

‘Who knows?’ Izzy scratched with his fingernail at a crust of candlewax on Sir Bastard’s coat. ‘Look at this – stained all over and he throws it at me, expects it spotless tomorrow.’

‘Why doesn’t he buy new? He has money enough,’ I said, lifting down the tray of sand.

‘Drinks it away, like father like son,’ said Peter. ‘He is awash already.’

‘Even his father doesn’t go whoring.’ I laid the first plate in the sand and began rubbing at it with my palm until there came a bright patch in the grey, then moved on so that the brightness spread. Usually I liked scouring pewter, but it would take more than a pleasant task to lift my mood with the weight that lay on me. And now Mervyn was in the house.

‘As the pamphlet said, scum rises to the top,’ I went on. It galled me to be a servant to such as he, lecherous, intemperate, devoid of wit or kindness, forever asking the impossible and, the impossible being done, finding fault with the work.

‘Sshh! No word of pamphlets,’ said Izzy.

At that instant Godfrey came into the room. ‘I have talked with both Master and Mistress,’ he announced.

‘And?’ asked Izzy.

‘They have promised to speak to him. Peter, it were better you did not serve at table. Jacob and I will be there.’

‘What’s this?’ I did not understand what was meant.

‘O, you don’t know,’ said Izzy. ‘Sir – ah – our young Master hit Peter in the face this morning.’

Peter turned the other side of his head to me. The eye was swollen.

‘I will not ask what for, since to ask supposes some reason,’ I said, and went on scouring.

‘Humility is a jewel in a servant,’ said Godfrey. ‘It is not for us to cavil at our betters.’

‘Or our beaters,’ the lad muttered.

‘To hear you talk,’ I said to Godfrey, ‘a perfect man were a carpet, soiled by others and then beaten for it.’

‘And hearing you,’ he returned, ‘it is clear you have had some unwholesome reading lately. Take care the Master does not catch you at it.’

‘How should that happen unless I left it lying in a wine jug?’

‘Jacob,’ said Izzy. ‘Get on with your work.’

Such impudent abuses as these Roches put on us, grew out of that slavery known as The Norman Yoke. That is to say, the forefathers of these worthless men, being murderers, ravishers, pirates and suchlike, were rewarded by William the Bastard for helping him mount and ride the English people, and they have stayed in the saddle ever after. The life of the English was at first liberty, until these pillaging Barons brought in My Lord This and My Lady That, shackling the native people and setting them to work the fields which were their own sweet birthright. Now, not content with their castles and parks, the oppressors were lately begun to enclose the open land, snatching even that away from the rest of us. Roche, this family were called, and is that not a Frenchy name?

Though Caro thought our Mistress not bad, I had noted how little My Lady, as well as her menfolk, had trusted us since the war began. When they thought we were listening their talk was all of wickedness and its punishment. The King has Divine Right on his side, one would say, and another, New Model, forsooth. New noddle, more like, and there would be loud laughter. Then Sir Bastard might put in his groatsworth, how the rebels were half fed (for they thought it no shame to rejoice in such hunger), half drilled, half witted, so that the victory could go only one way.

But we heard things from time to time, for all that the Roches kept mum or even spoke in French before our faces – indeed, so stupid was Mervyn that he had been known to do so before Mounseer Daskin, the cook, who could speak better French than any Roche had spoken since 1066 – and we took heart. Servants came to visit along with their masters, and whatever their sympathies they brought news from other parts of the country. We were on our guard, however, in speaking with these, for there were those who made report of their fellows.

‘It is said Tom Cornish is an intelligencer,’ Izzy told me one day. This Cornish had once been a servingman, and was now risen in the world – too high for any honest means. He farmed land on the far side of Champains, and his name was a byword throughout the country for a dedication to the Royalist cause bordering on that religious madness called enthusiasm, and commonly supposed only to afflict those on the Parliamentary side.

‘You recall the servants who were whipped?’ Izzy went on.

I nodded. Not a year before, two men from Champains had been tried for being in possession of pamphlets against the King.

‘Well,’ Izzy went on, ‘it was Cornish brought them to the pillory.’

‘Impossible,’ I answered. ‘Say rather Mister Biggin.’

Biggin was the master of the accused men, and had made no move to defend them.

‘Him also. But the one they cried out against was Cornish,’ Izzy insisted. ‘Gentle Christians both. More shame to Biggin, that he let them suffer.’

‘You forget they had a serious fault,’ said I.


‘Choosing their own reading. But Izzy, Cornish does not live at Champains. How would he know of it?’

‘Tis said, he fees servants. Most likely, some who come here.’

It was not like Izzy to suspect a man without cause. I noted his words carefully, and I guess he spoke to the rest, for we were all of us exceedingly discreet.

Our masters were less so. Sir John, when in his cups, left his private letters lying about, and his son was alike careless. Mercurius Aulicus, the Royalist newsletter, appeared in the house from time to time; lately, we had noted with growing excitement, it was finding less and less cause to exult. Naseby-Fight, in June, had been followed by Langport, not a month later, and the half drilled half fed had triumphed in both. ‘The Divine Right,’ jeered Zeb, ‘seems sadly lacking in Divine Might.’

Izzy pointed out that the soldiers on both sides were much of a muchness, for though the Cavaliers prided themselves on their fighting spirit and high mettle, they had the same peasants and masterless men to drill as their opposites.

‘Besides, Sir Thomas Fairfax is a gentleman,’ he added, ‘and this Cromwell a coming fellow.’

Not that we were reduced solely to Mercurius Aulicus. Godfrey was right, I had found me some reading and was very much taken therewith, considering it not at all unwholesome.

It was begun a few months before, by chance. Peter went to visit his aunt who worked at Champains, and there met Mister Pratt, one of the servants, and had some talk with him.

‘Eight o’clock behind the stables,’ Peter whispered to me that night. I went there after the evening meal, along with my brothers.

Peter held out a sheaf of papers. ‘Here, lads, can you read these?’

Izzy took them and bent his head to the first one. ‘Of Kingly Power and Its Putting Down. Where had you these?’

I snatched at another. ‘Of True Brotherhood – printed in London, look.’

‘Will it do?’ asked Peter. ‘And will you read it me?’

‘We shall all of us read it,’ Izzy promised.

These writings became, in time, our principal diversion. After the first lot, they were brought after dark by ‘Pratt’s boy’, that same Christopher Walshe who later lay in the laundry, naked under a sheet.

It was our pleasure on warm evenings sometimes to take our work outside, behind the stables where Godfrey never went, Zeb and Peter drinking off a pipe of tobacco as part of the treat. There we would read the pamphlets. Printed mostly in London, they spoke of the Rising of Christ and the establishment of the New Jerusalem whereby England would become a beacon to all nations.

‘A prophecy, listen.’ Zeb’s eyes shone. ‘The war is to end with the utter annihilation of Charles the Great Tyrant and the Papist serpent – that’s Henrietta Maria.’

‘I know without your telling,’ I said.

‘Measures are to be taken afterwards. In the day of triumph, er, O yes here ’tis – The rich to be cast down and the poor exalted. Every man that has borne a sword for freedom to have a cottage and four acres, and to live free-‘

We all sighed.

‘There shall be no landless younger brothers, forced by the laws to turn to war for their fortunes, and no younger brothers in another sense neither, that is, no class of persons obliged to serve others merely to live.’

‘A noble project,’ said Peter.

At that time these writings were the closest any of us came to the great doings elsewhere, for at Beaurepair things went on much as they always had, save that the Master and Mistress were by turns triumphant and cast down. We had escaped the curse of pillage and its more respectable but scarce less dreaded brother, free quarter: no soldiers were as yet come near us. Sir John was too fond of his comfort to equip and lead a force as some of the neighbours had done, so he neglected to apply for a commission and his men were kept at home, to pour his drink.

In the reading of our pamphlets we servants were, for an hour or so, a little commonwealth. Though Peter and Patience could not read, the rest of us took turns aloud so that all might hear and understand the same matter at the same moment, and then fall to discussing it. Izzy had taught Caro her letters and she did her part very prettily, her low voice breathing a tenderness into every word she spoke. I would sit with my arm round her, warming to that voice and to the serious expression of her dark eyes as she, perhaps the least convinced of us all, denounced the Worship of Mammon.

‘So, Caro, the Golden Calf must be melted?’ Zeb teased her one time.

‘So the writer says,’ my love answered.

‘And the Roches levelled with the rest of us?’ he pressed. ‘What say you to that?’

Caro returned stubbornly, ‘I say they are different one from another. The Mistress-‘

‘The Mistress favours you, that’s certain,’ put in Patience, whose coarse skin was flushed from too much beer at supper.

‘And not unjustly,’ I said. ‘But what is favour,’ I asked Caro, ‘that you should take it from her hand? Why are not you rich, and doing favours to her? Surely God did not make you to pomade her hair.’

‘She deals kindly with me nonetheless,’ Caro retorted. ‘God will weigh us one by one at judgement, and she is clean different to Sir Bastard.’

‘That may be,’ I allowed, ‘but she trusts us no more than he does. Besides, we cannot put away one and not the other.’

‘If Mammon be pulled down,’ Izzy warned, ‘we must take care the true God be put in his place and not our own wanton desires – the God of simpleness, of truth in our speech and in our doings, the God of a brotherly bearing-‘

He paused, and I saw his difficulty. We Cullens were the only brothers present, and Zeb and myself were constantly at one another’s throats.

The night before Patience ran off, we spoke long on a pamphlet circulated by some persons who farmed land together. Young Walshe had but just brought it, and having some time free he stopped on for the talk – ‘Mister Pratt knows where I am,’ said he – and sat himself down between Zeb and Peter to get a share of their pipe. I thought him overfamiliar, even unseemly, passing his arm around Zeb’s waist, but Zeb liked him well and on that night he sat with his arm round Walshe’s shoulders, and laughed when the lad’s attempts to smoke ended in coughing, though it was he that paid for the tobacco. Patience lolled against Zeb on the other side, and a man would be hard put to it to say which fawned on my brother more, herself or the boy.

Our debate was not strictly out of the pamphlet, but grew out of something beside. The writers freely said of themselves that they shared goods and chattels, but it was rumoured of them that they had also their women in common and considered Christian marriage no better than slavery.

‘Does “women in common” mean that the woman can refuse no man?’ asked Patience, looking round at the men present. Except when she gazed on Zeb, her dismay was so evident that for a moment the talk was lost in laughter, not least at her sudden assumption of chastity. I laughed along with the rest, thinking meanwhile that she had nothing to fear from me. I took none of Zeb’s delight in women who fell over backwards if you so much as blew on them. In Caro I had settled on a virgin, and one whom I would not take to my bed until we had been betrothed.

‘Does it mean that men are held in common too?’ jested Izzy. ‘It seems to me that if no woman is bound to no man there can be no duty of obedience, and so a woman may as well court a man as a man a woman. So may the man refuse?’

Peter considered. ‘Obliged to lie down with all the women!’

‘For the sake of the community,’ said Zeb with relish.

‘But whose would the children be?’ asked my darling.

Zeb answered her, ‘The mother’s who had them.’

‘Fie, fie!’ I said. ‘The rights of a father cast away! Whoredom, pure and simple.’

‘Look here,’ urged Walshe. ‘It is set down, To be bound one to the other, is savagery.’

There was a pause. Everyone, Walshe included, knew I was soon to be espoused to Caro.

‘Am I then a savage?’ I asked.

‘Jacob, it was not Chris that said it,’ replied Patience. ‘He put their case only.’

The rest looked at me.

‘Am I-‘

‘There would be incest,’ put in Izzy, laying his hand on my shoulder. ‘Jacob is right. Brother and sister, all unknowing.’

‘That happens now,’ said Peter. ‘And not always unknowing.’ Zeb looked up at once, seeming to search Peter’s face, but Peter did not observe him and went on, ‘There’s bastardy too, and many a man raising another’s son.’

Zeb ceased staring. The boy, catching my eye upon him, shrank like a woman closer to my brother’s side. I became aware of Izzy’s fingers kneading the back of my neck.

‘Bastardy there may be, but ‘twould be worse where they are,’ Patience insisted. ‘And what of old and ugly persons? None would have ’em!’ She gave her horrible honking laugh.

‘Those do not marry as it is,’ I said through gritted teeth.

Izzy shook his head. ‘Some do, and they have rights invested in the spouse’s estate and on their body. But in such a commonwealth none would live with them. They would be the worse for it.’

‘They might burn, but they wouldn’t starve,’ Peter said. ‘Which they do frequently now.’

‘You cannot get round the incest,’ said Izzy.

Caro said, ‘I want my own children,’ and blushed.

Zeb, sitting opposite her, tapped her foot. ‘Don’t you mean you want your own man? Want him all to yourself?’

‘Stop it,’ she hissed.

‘I shall call you sister,’ said Zeb, ‘and you can call him,’ he assumed a doting expression and spoke in a mincing, squeaky voice, ‘husband. O Husband, I’ve such an itch under my smock-‘

Peter whooped. I gave Zeb a kick that would afflict him with more than an itch.

‘Behold, a tiger roused!’ he shouted, eyes watering. Caro’s cheeks were inflamed. I kicked Zeb again and this time shut him up.

Through it all the boy watched me and said nothing. He had still not begged my pardon, and from time to time I let him see that I was also watching him.

‘Our talk grows foolish,’ said Izzy. ‘An unprofitable choice of reading, but we will do better next time.’ He got up and walked off in the direction of the house.

We were not often so rowdy, for though Zeb’s spirits were usually too high, he loved Izzy and would be quiet for him if not for me. Peter was coarse-minded, but never quarrelsome. A deal of interesting matter and many ideas came first to me in those talks, for example the thought of settling in New England.

Now the date of my betrothal to Caro was fast approaching, and Sir Bastard back among us, the Norman Yoke incarnate. I was no more safe from his blows and pinches than was Peter, my size being no bar to a craven who relied upon my not striking back. Had he and I been servants both, he would have run a mile rather than encounter with me. I did not want to serve him at dinner, for he would be too drunk to care what he did and in this condition he was at his most hateful. That Godfrey would be there was some comfort, for the brute was aware that My Lady listened to her steward more than to any other servitor. But what was My Lady, in that house? Those who should show a manly dignity were sunk into beasts – no, not beasts, for beasts are seemly among themselves, and have even a kind of society, whereas such degenerates as these desire only a bottle.

I pressed hard with the sand, polishing out the knife scratches in the pewter, scouring as if to wipe the Roches from the face of the earth. The burnished plates I stacked in neat piles, for I hated a slovenly workman. When I did a job I did it well, and Caro was the same: I loved her deft grace as she moved about the house. Had we the wherewithal we could have run an inn or shop together, for she was skilled with all manner of things and clever with money.

Not that I was marrying her for that. She seemed to me simply the likeliest girl I ever saw, with a sweet child-like face which gave a stranger no hint of her quick wit. She was good-humoured too, able to charm me out of my melancholy and wrath. Zeb had tried over the years to win her, and failed; I looked on, defeated in advance, until Izzy spoke to me one day.

There is another brother she prefers.

What, Izzy, is she yours?

No, Jacob, nor Zeb’s nor mine. Who does that leave?

At first I would not believe him. It had never fallen out that anyone, man or woman, preferred me to Zebedee. Then at Christmas we played a kissing game and I saw that she managed things so as to get in with me.

‘Forfeit,’ Izzy cried. ‘You must give Jacob a kiss.’

Her mouth was so soft and red that I longed to put mine against it, but was afraid lest I spoil my chances with some clumsiness.

‘Turn,’ she whispered, and tugged at my sleeve so that my back was between us and the company. I bent down and we kissed with open eyes, Caro’s utterly wide awake and innocent even as, unseen by the rest, she put the point of her tongue between my lips.

Afterwards Zeb asked, ‘Did she suck your soul out?’ and laughed; he told me all the company had seen me shake while kissing, and thus roused me to a blushing fit that lasted half an hour.

But I began to keep company with Caro. We had that talk which all lovers have, Why me, and Since when. She said I was a man and Zeb a boy, and during the kiss which followed her hand brushed against my body as if by chance. Like a fool, I spent days wondering did she understand what she had done to me.

Next to Caro, Patience showed cumbersome as a cow. Impossible, I thought, that she should hold Zeb, who was constantly seeking new pleasures. Whereas Caro, delectable Caro, should hold me for ever. More than once of late I had been woken at night by Izzy laughing and punching me, and when I asked him what was ado he would not tell.

‘Haste and get married,’ was all the answer he would give. Peter and Zeb, who shared the other bed (only Godfrey had a chamber of his own) laughed along with him. In the dark I blushed worse than before, for I suffered hot, salt dreams and had some idea of what I might have done.

I was slow with her. After Kiss Day, as I afterwards thought of it, after she called me a man to Zeb’s boy, I was still unsure and sometimes thought that for all she said, she must like Zeb better than me, for all women did. At times I even fancied, God forgive me, that she had perhaps turned to me following an earlier adventure with him.

One day I looked out of the window and saw her talking most earnestly with Zeb some yards off. I rose and quietly opened the window a crack before ducking beneath the sill.

Caro’s voice came to me: ‘…and sees nothing of my difficulty.’

‘Jacob all over,’ Zeb said. ‘But to the purpose. He must be put out of hope, you know.’

‘I cannot do it!’ she cried. ‘Two brothers…(here I missed some words, for my ears were throbbing)…to do something so cruel.’

‘But the longer it goes on, the crueller,’ said Zebedee.

There followed a silence. I rose and peeped out of the window: they had joined hands.

‘Shall I undertake to tell him?’ asked Zeb.

Caro cried, ‘Indeed, Zeb, you are too kind!’ and then, before my very eyes, they embraced, out there in the garden where any might see. I pulled the window to and sank to the floorboards, trembling.

The rest of that afternoon was passed in planning Zeb’s death, various ways, and devising punishments for Caro. During the evening meal I spoke not a word to either, even when directly addressed, and saw my fellow servants exchange puzzled or offended looks. Afterwards, when all was cleared away, I sat by myself at the kitchen fire polishing the Master’s boots. Zeb and Caro were most likely keeping out of my sight, and they were wise, for every time I thought of Zeb taking her in his arms, my jaw set and my own arms and shoulders became hard as iron.

The door opened and I glared upwards. It was Izzy.

‘I have made a discovery today,’ I said at once.

‘Have you?’ His voice was mild. ‘Will you tell me what?’

‘Acting the ambassador? Be straight. You are come to make their excuses.’ I bent forward and spat into the grate.

Izzy contemplated me. ‘Who are they? My business with you concerns no excuses.’ He pulled up a chair next to mine.

‘Well?’ I snapped.

‘Nay, I can’t talk to you in that style. Would you rather I went away?’

‘Zeb is courting Caro,’ I burst out before I could stop myself. ‘Don’t you know it?’

‘You amaze me. How did you make this – discovery?’

I told him what I had seen and heard. Izzy’s face quickened with some inner revelation before I was halfway through.

‘This is – none of it what you think,’ he began slowly.

‘What, not the embrace!’

He scratched his nose. ‘Jacob…there’s a thing I must break to you. Somewhat ticklish.’

I thought, You are in the right of it there.

‘Caro has sought Zeb’s counsel.’

‘Why not mine?’

‘It concerns you.’ Izzy glanced up at the ceiling as if wishing himself anywhere else in the world. ‘She has sought mine also, and her difficulty is-‘

‘How to break off with me!’

‘She wonders why you wait so long to declare yourself.’

I was silenced.

He took a great breath and went on, ‘If I may speak my mind – take note, this is none of her saying! – you make a fool of her, keeping company so long and the day not settled on. She has never wanted any but you. I thought you had a great mind to her also, and you can be sure the Mistress would be pleased. Where then lies the impediment?’

‘She is mighty familiar with Zeb,’ I answered slowly, and then, filling with stubborn anger, ‘I will not espouse her, or any, where I think my brother might have been before me.’

That was the only time in my entire life I saw Isaiah in a passion.

‘Do you ever raise your eyes and look about you?’ he hissed. ‘Everyone knows where Zeb’s delight lies, except the hulking idiot who is his brother.’

I gaped at him.

‘Besides, now is too late,’ Izzy went on, his eyes gleaming, ‘for such talk! You have kept company with her for months and given no hint. I repeat, you make a fool of her, and – I promise you! – if one word of your – madness – gets out, you’ll make such a fool of yourself as you’ll never live down.’

‘He embraces her.’

‘Because he sees her unhappy! And should they kiss, what is it to you? You are not espoused, and if you like it not the remedy lies in your own hands.’

I was stunned, partly at this view of the matter, but mostly at what he had said of Zeb. ‘Zeb in love? Who?’

‘O, a certain maid whose ear he has been nibbling, full in your view, these past months. She has two eyes and a mouth and her name begins with P.’

Things that I had taken for jests came back to me: Zeb arm-wrestling Patience, or begging a lock of her hair ‘for lying on a maiden’s hair brings a man sweet sleep’.

‘Caro does not wish to break off, then-?’ I faltered.

Izzy rolled his eyes.

I went on, ‘Yet they spoke of cruelty – said it was cruel.’

‘You. You’re cruel to Caro.’

‘To Caro…?’ They had talked of a he. I was about to explain his mistake when the truth came to me. The cruelty Zeb had spoken of was my own, and the sufferer Izzy. My elder brother had never ceased to love Caro, that was it; he had but loved her more tenderly as she turned away from the shared kindnesses of their early years towards something different with me. O Izzy, Izzy: he was the better man of us two, I own it freely, but he was not the sort of man a maid dreams of taking to her bed, and he had been forced to learn it over and over as he watched me win her. I could hardly bear to look at him as he sat there, smiling in defeat.

‘Cruel to Caro, yes.’ I must now conceal my pity.

‘I would see her happy,’ he returned simply. ‘I thought her happiness must lie with you.’

He it was, I remembered now, who had first told me of her preference.

‘But I begin to think I was mistaken.’ Izzy stared ahead of him. ‘Lord, what brothers I have. One eats women and the other starves them.’ His voice trembled as he rose to leave the room.

‘Don’t go, Izzy.’ I flung my arms round him from behind. ‘Wait and see – I will declare myself.’ Even as I said it I felt what a bittersweet promise this must be to him.

He turned to me and we pressed our faces together, the way we had always made up our quarrels as children. I had to bend down now, having so far outgrown my childhood protector. His face was damp around the eyes and for a moment I felt with horror that he was about to cry, but his gaze was bright and steady.

As he put me away from him, Izzy said quietly, ‘You are near as handsome as he, and bigger.’

‘Don’t make me more of a fool than I am,’ I answered.

‘There, I knew you would not hear it.’

‘You love me too well, Izzy.’

He sighed. ‘Very well, think yourself ugly. But Jacob,’ he went on, ‘be not so harsh with Zeb.’

I said I would not.

Going to seek out Caro, I found Zeb and Patience in the scullery, his arms about her as she scraped at a dirty dish, and I wondered at my blindness for so long. My own darling I discovered moping in the great hall. When she saw me she rose, and would have quitted the room, but I stepped up to her and begged her forgiveness. Before we parted that night, our betrothal was a settled thing.

The Mistress furnished Caro with a good dowry. All the money I could afford for her portion had been put by out of my own sweat, and was not bad considering the little that servants such as ourselves could scratch together. Neither of us could fairly hope for more if we meant to stay where we were.

My brothers and myself had been born to better fortunes than we enjoyed, but our father, though godly, was strangely improvident. I found my inheritance wasted and my estate encumbered, was his constant cry throughout my childhood. Yet all shall be paid off, and you, Isaiah, shall inherit-

Dust and debt. There was nothing else for Izzy to come into. The day after we buried Father, I found Mother weeping in her chamber, the steward standing over her and papers scattered all around.

‘Jacob,’ she screamed at me as if it were my doing, ‘O my boy, my boy,’ and fell to tearing her lace collar. I took it for the grief, and wept along with her, until the steward came forward saying, ‘Pray, young master, send your brother Isaiah to us.’

When Izzy came out from the chamber he told me that we were nine-tenths ruined. The house and lands were certain to be seized. The steward was at that instant writing a letter for Mother to sign, begging our neighbour Sir John that of his goodness he succour a distressed widow of gentle birth and her three helpless children.

Sir John Roche was not in those days the wineskin he is since become, and his wife (who inclined to a somewhat Papistical style of worship) was known for her rather short-sighted charity. Our mother was given a cottage in the village and the three helpless children were put to work in the fields on Sir John’s estate. This was perhaps not what Mother had in mind.

Margett, who was at that time the cook at Beaurepair, later enlightened me. We were in the kitchen together and her forehead shone greasily as she bent over a pig she had on the spit. I thought her grey hair very ugly, but her face was kind, if wrinkled, and from her I could find out things the others kept secret.

‘Your father owed Sir John a deal of money,’ Margett said. ‘Turn the handle there, it’s about to catch. Lost a fortune by him, the Master did.’

And so he wished us to work his fields. It was every inch my mother, not to have understood this. She understood nothing but weeping, coaxing and prayer.

When we were let fall into the furrow, I was ill prepared for my new life. For one thing, I was then accustomed to the attentions of servants (though unlike Mervyn Roche, I had been taught always to address them with respect). Now I found a great abatement of rest and of comfort, whether I were in the field or cooped up in the dark cramped place that was become our home.

Most unendurable was the utter loss of all means of raising myself from the earth. My books were left behind in our old house. Weary as I was, I would gladly have had them by me. I could read well and was skilled in reckoning, knew my rhetoric and Scripture, and had begun the ancient tongues some years before.AMLS 5

‘A forward lad for his age,’ our tutor, Doctor Barton, had told my father. ‘He might be trained up in the law perhaps, and become secretary to some great man.’

Now the forward lad found himself grubbing at roots, spreading dung, pulling thistles. When there was nothing else to do a boy could always be set to scare crows. Alone in the field where none could see me at it, I wept. Zeb, too young to grasp that we would be wasted in this valley of humiliation, was less wretched, though from time to time he would whine, ‘When are we going home?’

The other workers were at first somewhat in awe of us, but when they understood that for all our polish we were penniless, things altered. Very soon they made no difference between us and themselves.

‘Here, young Cullen, take this off-a me; don’t stand there gawking,’ said a man who could not read. I felt myself bitterly degraded. When I perceived that I was forgetting what I had been taught, that my only study now would be scythes and manures, terror seized me.

Izzy, finding me one day in a fit of despair, knelt by me in the field and crooked his arm about my neck. ‘A man’s value lies in his obedience to God’s will,’ he said. ‘We are as precious to Him now as ever we were.’

‘He does not show it.’

‘Indeed He does. We eat and drink; we have good health, and one another,’ he reproached me. But I lacked his greatness of heart.

Margett also told me that about this time, My Lady passing by in the carriage was struck by the sight of the three ‘black-boys’ labouring in her field. She made enquiries, and found that while she had thought us to be living on the charity of the Roches, her husband had reduced us to peasants.

‘That was an evil day for him. The sermons!’ Margett gloated. ‘Table lectures, fireside lectures, pillow lectures! – until he said she might bring you to the house. A fellow was sent for you directly, before the Master could change his mind.’

I remembered that. When the man came into the field and bade us follow him, for we were now to work indoors at Beaurepair, he must have thought we would never move off. Izzy stood motionless and speechless, while I dropped to my knees thanking God, for I knew what we had escaped. Servitude inside the house was still bondage in Egypt, but we were now shaded against the noonday heat.

Caro’s fortune was even humbler than my own. Margett told me that Caro’s mother, Lucy Bale, had been a maid at Beaurepair in time past, a woman about the Mistress’s own age and her entire favourite.

‘It ended sadly, though,’ the woman said. ‘In the same year that the Mistress married Sir John, Lucy found herself with child. That’s a fault easily wiped out, to be sure! – but her Mathias was killed. An unlucky fall.’

Later, Godfrey told me more. Lucy, it seemed, bore up under her shame with no little dignity. Sir John would have sent her away, but his wife argued that provided she showed herself repentant, she should stay, else she would surely sink to a most degraded condition. In the event she had no chance to sink, for she died in giving birth to her daughter.

The child, which was of a rare white-and-gold beauty (both Lucy and Mathias were, said Godfrey, bright as sovereigns), was christened Caroline and put under the care of the then steward’s wife, to be raised up a servant. I remembered her being shouted for, and once, when she might be six or seven, dragged by her hand through the great hall, trembling, for the steward’s wife was sharp of tongue and temper. Had Mathias lived, Caro should have been called Caroline Hawks, but none of his kin wished to claim her, so she kept the name of Bale. Izzy, finding her one day weeping in the garden, took her in his arms and dried her eyes and nose on his shirt. He called her Caro for short, and Caro she became.

‘Come along, Jacob.’ Godfrey stood before me, smoothing down his collar. ‘Leave that for later and wash your hands. The meat is ready to go out.’

I rinsed the sand off my fingers in a bowl of water before following him into the kitchen. The roast was set upon a wheeled table, and as fragrant as the stalled ox must have smelt to the Prodigal – a fine piece of mutton stuck with rosemary. Around it stood dishes of carrots and peas, a pigeon pie and sweet young lettuces dressed with eggs, mushrooms and oil.

‘Let us hope they leave plenty over,’ I said to Godfrey.

‘Amen to that.’ The steward poured wine from a decanter, held it up to the light and sipped it. ‘Very pleasing. I will help you with the dishes and then come back for the drink.’

We trundled in with the mutton, my mouth watering. Someone, most likely Caro, had set up the table with such precision that every cup and dish was in absolute line, not a hair’s breadth out. No pewter today; instead, the plate glittered. At one end of this perfection sat My Lady, her hair like string and face flaky with white lead; at the other, Sir John, bloated and purplish. To his mother’s right Mervyn sprawled like a schoolboy in a sulk, tipping the chair back and forth on two of its four legs. He was far gone in drink. I silently thanked Godfrey, grate on me as he might, for keeping Caro away. Only men and whores should serve Mervyn Roche.

When he saw us he shifted in the seat with annoyance and almost fell backwards.


‘Yes, my darling?’

‘Mother, why don’t you get a proper butler? Here’s the steward serving the wine – what does he know of it? – and none but that booby to help him. If there be any wine.’

‘It is decanted, Sir, and I am going back for it directly,’ Godfrey soothed.

‘I saw a man at Bridgwater carve in a new way entirely,’ Mervyn announced. ‘It was a wonder to see how he did it – here-‘

To my amazement he leapt from his seat and held out his hands for the carving knife and fork.

Godfrey kept his hands on the trolley but dared do no more; he looked helplessly at My Lady. Sir John, seemingly oblivious, stared at the ceiling.

‘Do you think you should, my sweet?’ Lady Roche implored. On receiving no reply she tried for help elsewhere. ‘Husband, if I may speak a word? Husband?’

‘Might a man eat in peace?’ the husband grunted.

Mervyn glared at his mother, then snapped his fingers to me. ‘You, Jacob. Give it over here. Christ’s arse, if I can’t carve a joint of meat-!’

The Mistress winced at her son’s foul tongue. I took the roast to him and laid the knife and fork ready. Godfrey disappeared through the door leading to the kitchen. I stood back, arms by my sides as I had been taught. He made a fearful butchery of it, hacking in chunks the sweet, crisp flesh which the cook had so lovingly tended. I saw his mother sigh. When the best part of the meat was ruined I brought forward the plates and shared out the tough lumps between the diners. Why, O God, I was thinking, do You not let slip his knife?

‘A butler, I say,’ he persisted, cutting into the pigeon pie with rather more finesse than he had displayed in carving the mutton.

‘Where is the need?’ asked his mother. ‘We live in a very small way here.’

‘Aye, I’ll say you do!’ He pushed off with his legs from the table, almost dropped backwards onto the floor, but retrieved the balance of the chair just in time. ‘Where is Patty?’ This was his name for Patience.

‘Patty is no longer with us,’ came the reply.

‘What! Dead!’

‘No.’ My Lady began crying.

‘What, then?’

‘Run away. Or-‘ She shook her head.

Mervyn glanced at her, took a gobbet of flesh and chewed on it. ‘If she’s run away she’s a fool. You,’ he again snapped his fingers at me, so that I itched to twist them off, ‘tell that Frenchified capon I’ve had better mutton in taverns.’

I bowed and took my chance to escape him a while. Going out of the door I met Godfrey returning with the wine and I hoped it might find better favour than the meat. Best of all would be if it were poisoned. One thing was cheering: Sir Bastard might scorn me but I had beaten him to the woman he desired. Setting aside his sulks and his drink-stained eyes, Mervyn was handsome, especially round the mouth, with its fierce scarlet lips hemming in very white teeth. In him a man might see what his father had been when young, just as in Sir John his son’s fate was laid out plain – if the son were fortunate, for his whoring was proverbial and a lucky pox or clap might yet shorten his days. He had always had a thirst for Caro. If I could think at all on my wedding night, I should take a minute to exult over him.

AMLSIn the kitchen the cook, used to madness in his masters, shrugged when I told him the insults heaped on the roast.

‘I have a syllabub for that lad,’ he told me. ‘A special one. Don’t you go tasting, Jacob. Barring Godfrey, everyone’s helped with it.’

‘Not me,’ I said. I took my turn and spat in the thing too, stirring in the spittle. A voice like Father’s somewhere in my head said, Sweetly done, my boy. I carried in the syllabubs, placed the defiled one before Mervyn and stood the picture of submission, watching him eat it.

The man who had joined with us servants in taking this small but choice revenge was called Mister, or Mounseer, Daskin. Between him and Mervyn was deadly hatred. We were out of the ordinary in having a foreign cook. Margett, who had told me of my father’s debt to Sir John, dropped dead one day while arranging a goose on the spit, and the Mistress, who clung still to some pretence of elegance, tormented Sir John for a French cook, such as were just then starting to be known in London.

‘I will have my meat done in the good old English way,’ said the husband, who had no hankerings after hautgousts, hachees or dishes dressed a-la-doode. ‘There will be no French cooks at Beaurepair while I am master.’

His next dinner taught him better: the meat was bloody, and the sauces full of grit. Sir John glared about him. ‘Is the wine spoilt?’ he asked.

‘Not at all,’ his wife replied.

‘Then why have we none on the table?’

‘The cellar key is lost.’

Sir John knew when he was beaten, and bade the Mistress do what she would.

His wife let him down gently. Letters of enquiry to her friends in Town brought forth a number of likely men, but she settled on Mister Daskin who was but half French, could speak our language and cook in the English way beside. He arrived in the coach one wet October afternoon, a small dapper man in London clothes, looking about him with pleasure. It was said that fashionable life had hurt his health.

‘Up all night, and then working again all day,’ he told me. ‘Never, Jacob, never go to London!’

‘You will find it very dull here,’ I answered.

‘Now that is exactly what I like.’

It seemed he found promise of saner living in our old stone house with its surrounding fields and trees. The first meal he cooked for the household was served to Mervyn, and I guess he was never so pleased with his bargain since.

Daskin was not bad for someone half French. He was a Protestant, and he gave good food to the servants as well as the masters. Peter sometimes assisted him in the kitchen, but more often it was either Caro or Patience, and Caro told me she had picked up a great deal of knowledge concerning preserves and puddings from Mounseer, who was not jealous of others seeing what he did. Most of what was cooked was done in the English style, for after a week or so during which her pride would not let her speak, the Mistress was forced to admit that she did not care for French feeding, and Sir John’s roasts were restored to him.

When Mervyn had given his final belch and strewn bread about the table, the Mistress joined her hands and offered up thanks. Her son rattled off the words through force of habit, so that by happy accident I was able to hear him thank God for what he had just received.

After they had got down from the board Peter came to help me clear away.

‘Look at that.’ I pointed out the roast, now stiffening as it cooled. ‘That’s how he carves.’

‘Still alive, was it? Kept running about?’

The room felt cleaner with Mervyn gone. Daskin came in and wheeled off the meat, muttering words in French that any man could translate only by studying his face. We returned the plate to the sideboard and carried the slipware to the scullery to be washed along with ours.

In the room where we had our own food there was a smell of onions and cider. Caro was laying out the dishes; Daskin bent over the mutton, trying to save what he could. I was suddenly very hungry. The syllabub could not be spoken of before Godfrey, who was there examining a fork which Mervyn had bent out of shape, but it hung in the air between us all, a secret pleasure to set against the gloom of that morning’s discovery.

‘There’s nothing wrong with this meat,’ said the cook. ‘If I myself carve what’s left you’ll find it as tender a roast as you’ve had.’

‘We never thought otherwise,’ Izzy assured him.

‘I have made onions in white sauce,’ added Caro, looking sweetly on me because she knew how I relished this dish. I sat on the end of the bench next to the place she would take when she left off serving.

The meal was set before us and Godfrey led us in asking God’s blessing. As soon as folk began spooning up onions and handing about the bread, the talk turned to Chris Walshe, and to Patience.

‘Is Zeb back from Champains yet?’ I asked.

‘No,’ said Peter. ‘I guess they’ll keep him there awhile.’

‘What for? All he did was drag the pond.’

‘This is fine mutton, Mounseer,’ said one of the dairymaids, who seemed to have got the sheep’s eyes into her own head to judge by her glances at him.

‘Did Chris – was Chris hurt, Jacob?’ asked Caro.

‘He was,’ I answered. ‘Has nobody been to look?’

‘I locked the laundry after you laid him out,’ said Godfrey. ‘It is neither seemly nor respectful for everyone to go goggling at the lad.’

‘There’s something in that,’ said Izzy. ‘But tell us, Godfrey, how was he wounded?’

The steward hesitated.

‘Jacob knows already,’ urged Peter.

Godfrey said, ‘Well. It was no accident.’ He looked at me.

‘Stabbed,’ I supplied.

A general gasp and then a buzz, not unlike pleasure, rose from the company.

‘There are bad men about,’ said Godfrey. ‘Be watchful. The Mistress has instructed me to look over all the locks and bolts, and I should be obliged if you would bring me to any weak ones.’

‘And still no sign of Patience,’ said Caro.

‘Did she quarrel with one of you? Had she any trouble?’ the steward asked.

‘None,’ Caro said. ‘No trouble.’

I turned to her and saw her face quite innocent. I pictured Zeb, how he would have answered, perhaps mopping up sauce on a bit of bread, and his eyelashes lying modest on his cheek like a girl’s.

The great hall by torchlight was now a gilded slaughterhouse, with pictures everywhere, filthy idolatries in paint and in stone. I glanced up in blinking the warm water from my eyes and saw wood carved fine as lace. Velvet and gold tissue ran with gore or were caught on pikes and torn from the walls: men were blown up and fell in gobbets through jewelled windows. I saw one soldier ram a sword down another’s throat, and heard the scream grow shrill and then choke off as the blade was driven home. Above them, high on the far wall, a marble Christ pale in death looked down from the cross upon His people.

“it is a curious thing to be reading such matter as this and have a woman serve us. The last time I read such things I was a servant myself, and now I have one.”

“There was once a man who heard his wife and her lover together. He heard the secret things the wife whispered to the lover, and said only, ‘yes, that is she.’But then the lover pleaded to be touched, and the husband clenched his fists; and when the man cried aloud then the husband’s nails cut deep into the palms of his hands.”

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The Hope of Things to Come – ed. M. Chapman

THOTTCA collection of essays assessing the classical Anglican tradition (Scripture, Tradition and Reason) .They began life as a series of lectures leading up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference and focus on how the inheritance of the past and present can be appropriated into the future – instead of being marred by the deep pessimism which permeates so much of Anglicanism – particularly in the increasingly inward looking and often bitter Anglo-Catholic tradition – all the essays offer hopeful and constructive insights for a vibrant catholic form of Christianity within Anglicanism which understands the church as a place of dialogue, encounter and renewal.

Instead of division, the emphasis is on conversation, dialogue and unity.

The Book is divided into two parts:

The three essays in part one re-assess the sources of doctrine in Anglicanism in novel ways, all in dialogue with history, as well as with the theologies of other churches, and the experience in other religions.

Charlotte Methuen explains that there have always been disagreements in the Church and examines Hooker’s ‘three-legged stool’. She points out that tradition is a living thing, not just ‘something we’ve always done’ and has an amusing story to illustrate the latter.

She disagrees with it being a certainty that the Anglican Communion will end in schism: After the 1988 Lambeth Conference, Timothy Dudley Smith commented: ‘I felt the Conference has been a personal triumph under God for the Archbishop of Canter­bury. I do not see how the British press can go on picturing him as an ineffective and isolated leader presiding over the dissolution of the Anglican Communion.

He may have written good hymns like ‘Lord for the years’, which was aired for the Queen’s 90th birthday bash but he is quite happy to stamp on LGBTs.

Mark Chapman rehabilitates the term ‘liberal’, pointing out that original sin means that we see things askew and need self-criticism. He explains the way in which authority has been centralised in the Roman Catholic Church and then asks whether Anglicans can be truly catholic with a dispersed authority. Burt surely we don’t have to allow Rome to have the copyright on the notion of catholicity.

A conversation is promoted which continues through the chapters in Part Two, which engage in their different ways with the ecumenical setting of theology, Anglo-Catholicism and the future, and the effects of the recent Lambeth Conference on the resolution of conflict and peacemaking across the Anglican Communion.

Andrew Davidson has some accurate criticisms of Affirming Catholicism in that it seems to get more of its views from secular liberalism than from theology and I was amused to reads that the section’ What we Believe’ on our website was blank.

Joseph Cassidy makes the mistake of thinking that because the Church of England is diverse it can encompass other denominations in a unity without uniformity.

Martyn Percy worries that the sort of polite conversations envisaged by the Windsor Report will mean that the real pain felt by minorities like LGBTs will be dismissed as shrill.

To finish with, David Stancliffe writes in his own inimitable and expansive style about how different cultures can be hidebound by their language and how this effects their (lack of) vision.


What later came to be called Erastian church in settlements, in which national rulers are closely involved and the affairs of the Church, were defining the teaching  rooted in the conviction of secular rulers that they were primarily responsible for the health of their subjects’ souls and therefore must, at the very least, share responsibility for the proper ordering of the Church. The declaration on human rights, or legislation such as bills to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender, race or sexual orientation are arguably later extensions of this same principle.

Luther rooted his response to these point and claimed authority to interpret scripture made explicit in the second wall. Here his criticism of the papacy claimed the sole authority in interpretation, whereas in fact the responsibility scripture belongs to the whole people of God who understand the scriptures in faith.

‘Good manners’, for example, can be a form of quasi-pastoral suppression that does not allow true or strong feelings to emerge in the centre of an ecclesial community, and properly interrogate its ‘settled’ identity. This may rob the Church of the opportunity truly to feel the pain of those who may already perceive themselves to be on the margins of the Church, perhaps even disqualified, or who already feel silenced. ‘Good manners’ can also become a cipher for excluding the apparently undeserving, and perhaps labelling seemingly difficult insights as ‘extreme voices’. The prophetic, the prescient, and those who protest, can all be ignored by a church that makes a virtue out of overly valuing a peaceable grammar of exchange. Put another way, if the ‘coolness’ always triumphs over the ‘passionate’, then the Church is effectively deaf in one ear.

Rather like a good marital or parent—child relationship, learning to articulate and channel anger can be as important as learning to control it. It is often the case that in relationships where the expression of anger is denied its place, resentment festers and breeds, and true love is ultimately distorted. Strong feelings need to be acknowledged for relationships to flourish. If strong feelings on one or both sides have to be suppressed for the sake of a relationship, then it is rarely proper to speak of the relationship being mature or healthy.

in retrospect we can acknowledge that freedoms for the oppressed have been won by aggressive behaviour, even when it has been militantly peaceful or pacifist: the Civil Rights movement in North America and the peaceful protests of Gandhi spring to mind But all too often churches and society collude in a fiction, believing that an end to slavery, the emancipation of women, and perhaps even the end of apartheid, could all have been achieved without the aggressive behaviour of militants.

You touch on the same sensibilities in the Anglican tradition when someone alters the words of a well-known hymn. There are the — by now — well-accepted changes, like ‘Hark! the herald angels sing’ for ‘Hark! how all the welkin rings’, but a more striking example of a wilful alteration is in the third verse of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn See the Conqueror mounts in triumph:

Thou hast raised our human nature

In the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places,

There with thee in glory stand;
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;

Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in thine Ascension

We by faith behold our own.

This is clearly too strong meat for the editors of the modern Hymns Old and New,’ who alter the sixth line to read: ‘bears our nature to the throne’ and so offers an interesting example of the western, linear style of theology invading the bolder and more direct ‘eastern’ claim of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth’s original.

Ut unum sint was a renewed plea for Christian unity, ‘ particularly directed towards the Orthodox churches. The j encyclical acknowledges that in baptism Christians become members of the Body of Christ, and that many churches have some (or most) of the elements of truth which, however, the encyclical claims exists in its fullness only in the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul stated that ‘the communion of the particular churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is — in God’s plan — an essential requisite of full and visible communion’ (§96). And here this great and unbreakable chain becomes to outsiders apparently circular. For unity there must be communion, for communion there must be unity of ministry, since sharing in communion is the sign of being in communion, not a means to achieve it: ‘it is not a substitute for unity, but the fruit of unity.’ For those outside the Roman Catholic Church it seems extremely difficult to break into this charmed circle.

One way forward might be to press the claims of a model of authenticity — of a truly apostolic ministry — which was less linear; not so much of a mechanical linkage to guarantee the uninterrupted transmission of potestas, of priestly power to consecrate, as a raft or web. I think of it like this: we have a hammock which seems able to bear the weight of our heaviest friends, yet is made entirely of wool. Its secret lies in the fact that it has an enormous number of strands, not one of which is bearing more than a fraction of the weight, and strand is woven to strand laterally as well as lengthwise; it has — if I recall the terms correctly — both warp and weft.

Any ‘apostolic succession’ which by-passes commun­ion, the essential corporate-making ingredient in building the Church as a body which is continuous in space and time, is vulnerable. It is rooted only in the single link of a massive chain which binds it clearly, but potentially disastrously — if one link snaps, the whole chain breaks — to its origin in the past. Communion, of which the Eucharist is the type and origin, is more like a web, a net, a hammock. In the Eucharist past and future, heaven and earth, God and humanity are bound together in Christ, the unique source of the Church’s ministry.

But are different models that derive from other linguistic thought patterns possible? Would it be possible to think that unity — like that experienced by the infant Church on the day of Pentecost — might have more to do with the complementarity of different languages, patterns of expression and thought-forms rather than in a historical or imposed uniformity? The phenomenon of different languages was certainly understood in the Hebrew Testament (Genesis 11.1­9) as a sign of disunity, leading to chaos. But it is exactly this same phenomenon that is discovered to he a sign of the unity of the Church in mission in Acts 2.1-13. True, neither the day of Pentecost nor the common life of the Christians of Corinth sound like tidy expressions of the apostolic Church, but they ­like the organic models of the Church which figure in the earlier writings of the New Testament — are a good deal more vivacious than the later and more structural expressions of he life of the Church in writings like the Letter to the Ephesians

On a different level, the Anglican Communion — hitherto the great ecclesial gift to the divided churches as an exemplar of how to manage unity in and through diversity — is currently engaged in a not dissimilar exercise in unity to which the assumed solution is to provide a Covenant into which different Provinces can enter. This ‘Covenant’, couched in a long document setting out expected loyalties and ways of behaving, looks suspiciously like a contract, not a covenant, and is clearly designed to set down in juridical terms limits to the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour. Hitherto, the Communion has been defined in relational terms: relation to the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury…. If, in a married relationship, the ways of kindli­ness and graciousness, of affection and trust, have become so eroded that lists of duties and agreed standards of behaviour had to be substituted for attentive and loving response, then we wonder if the marriage still exists except on paper.

What may occupy three or four pages in the novel, describing the long walk home through the slow dusk after a heavy day’s work, is reduced to a four-second pan. Nothing of the slowly fading light, the footsteps more leaden with each passing minute, the aching shoulders and the anticipation of a welcoming fire: just a mood flash before the next action. And how do you convey, simply in visual terms, the evocative smell of wet earth after a shower of rain? Or the feel of a violin bow on a gut string? Do today’s children notice birdsong as they go jogging with their ipods? How do they register the smell of fresh milk or a peat fire? Do they still make imaginary pictures in their heads from the books they have read? What about the senses of touch and sensitivity to texture? In particular, what about the seeing that comes from looking at the same landscape or altarpiece day after day in all seasons and lights ­that slow imprint of a sense of place that builds up a feeling of being at home?

Are there parallels here with the necessary limitations imposed by the binary, on/off, yes/no system that is the basis of all computer technology? When you blow up an image taken by a digital camera, however sophisticated, the pixels come out with straight edges: how does what we know about the importance of curves in giving life even to apparently straight line fit with this? There is not one straight line in that

masterpiece of classical architecture, the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Nor is there one in Lutyens’s Cenotaph in Whitehall. Similarly, singing to the  accompaniment of an electronic organ is always a battle. This is because their sound is produced in perfect, solid chunks. The notes do not have ­as the notes produced by the human voice, or an oboe or a pipe organ do — a plosive beginning, a blossoming growth and a tailed-off end, which gives each note its own, individual life. Can the mechanical means, by which so much of our experience is replicated and shared, ever give us the real thing? And can this virtual reality, so immediately accessible, replace the formation and cultivation of our own imagination? And if it can, do we want it to?

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Thinking afresh about welfare: The Enemy Isolation – House of Bishops

Bunyan 1Starting from the “Five Giant Evils” identified in the 1942 Beveridge report, on which the welfare state was based — Want, Disease, Squalor, Ignorance, and Idleness — the Bishops’ paper adds “a giant which all can see around them, which most experience at some time in their lives, but which few will name. It is the Enemy Isolation.”

(“The implicit allusion to Bunyan in his chapter on the “Five Giant Evils” would have resonated with numerous people, across the classes, for whom The Pilgrim’s Progress was a familiar text. Few if any texts, let alone those with Christian undertones, have such public salience today.”)

The paper has been produced by the Director of Mission and Public Affairs, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, in association with the Bishops of Norwich, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, and Truro and contains echoes of the House’s pre-election pastoral letter of 2015.

A preamble states that the paper “does not try to set out a central policy for the whole Church”. It was written at the Bishops’ request to inform their responses to individual pieces of welfare reform, particularly in the Lords.

“There’s nothing here that the Bishops haven’t been saying for years,” Dr Brown said on Wednesday, “but it puts it in a robust and thought-through context. It makes it clear that, when a bishop comments on a piece of welfare legislation, it is not simply a kneejerk reaction but comes out of a deep theological commitment to community.”

The paper begins with a description of how isolation frustrates attempts to create a mutually beneficial society, and goes on to consider the principles, theology, and delivery methods of welfare.

It seeks to challenge the narrowing definition of welfare, from a sense of interdependence — “We are all in this together” — to a word used solely to describe financial support for those of working age who do not fully support themselves by earned income, and thus require state help to survive.

Unlike the concept of a ‘safety net’ in the USA, the Welfare State was set up to enable everyone to flourish, not just to help a few helpless people.

About isolation, it describes lives without the “support, friendship, and sacrifice of others”; the isolation that many face in old age; the lack of childcare options for mothers; the loss of neighbourliness; the rapid loss of self-confidence among people made redundant; the breakdown of marriages; and the lack of trust between strangers.

Seeking remedies, people turn to agencies, such as GPs, even the police, “which were never intended to address this basic need”. And with this “drift toward greater isolation . . . the burden on the state has become unsustainable”.

The paper doesn’t support the views of any political party. It says that Universal Credit “deserves support” in its attempts to simplify the benefits system; it argues that “there is nothing wrong with trying to design a welfare system which seeks to change human behaviour”; it agrees that welfare policies should create incentives to work; it puts family stability high up its list of necessary conditions for improvement; and it suggests that voluntary enterprises could deliver welfare better than “the dead hand of bureaucracy”.

On the other hand, it challenges the view that better welfare inevitably leads to higher national debt: “there are other ways of reducing debt (like higher taxes) and so welfare cuts are a political choice”; gives short shrift to the involvement of the private sector, which “usually” achieves efficiency “by driving down wages and introducing worse conditions for staff”; expresses the view that the state should bear the bulk of the responsibility for the welfare system; and attempts to break down what it perceives as a “harder line” between those who claim benefits and those who benefit from the state in less obvious ways.

The paper criticises the 1985 report Faith in the City, produced by Archbishop Runcie’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas: “Just as Faith in the City failed to see the moral vision that informed Margaret Thatcher’s administrations, and therefore failed to engage coherently with that vision, so we must avoid the trap of seeing present policy direction as motivated solely by economic concerns.” Instead, it states, “recent welfare policies, whilst sometimes clumsily implemented or ill-communicated, are not without moral purpose.” However, it can’t help answering some of the critics of that report.

It cites a lack of friendships, loneliness in old age through a lack of family or neighbours, an inability for single mothers to find childcare, family breakdown, low self-esteem among the unemployed, rising homelessness and a lack of support for the disabled as examples of isolation.

The report also says the Church is one of the best institutions in tackling isolation in British society. For example foodbanks and Street Pastors not only address practical needs, but also provide a listening ear, mentorship and friendship.

It also cites the Church’s inclusion of the elderly, disabled and unemployed.

The report also:

Invites policymakers to consider extending benefits to migrants coming to Britain

Condemns rhetoric which portrays benefit claimants as “other”

Argues that cutting welfare spending is not the only way national debt can be lowered

Promotes welfare policies which promote family stability

Condemns moving poorer people potentially hundreds of miles away because of money

Concluding, ‘Thinking Afresh’ says: “One guiding principle for our collective responses should be the restoration of social bonds, the encouragement of neighbourliness and the attack on trends that exacerbate isolation.

“If we shape our responses along those lines, we may be able to engage with the government more effectively on welfare issues.”

Bunyan 2Quotations:

Like many wicked enemies, it goes by numerous aliases. It is Loneliness, Estrangement, Friendlessness. It may be born from the conviction that each person is an island; that the individual can form his or her personhood through choice and will power, and make a life without the support, friendship and sacrifice of others; that our responsibilities begin and end with ourselves and that the good of others is purely their own affair. It may start with the dangerous implication that personal freedom is threatened by caring about other people.

Its effects are seen in the isolation that many face in old age; in the lack of childcare options for working mothers; in the loss of neighbourliness and family ties which cuts off the housebound from contact and conversation, even allowing some to die unnoticed and undiscovered for weeks. It is seen in the rapid loss of self-confidence and resilience among people who are made redundant and, with the loss of a job, lose the sense of belonging among their peers. It is seen in the way that homelessness can reduce people to invisibility and disability throws people onto their own, often inadequate, resources. It is seen in the erosion of trust between strangers. It is seen in the breakdown of marriages, the estrangement of families and the impermanence of close relationships.

Isolation is not just a characteristic of individual lives – whole groups within society may be, either intentionally or through the laws of unintended consequences, isolated from each other and from the mainstream. Groups with little political influence, groups of people who don’t fit some widely-held social perception of “normality”, can be rendered invisible.

Isolation has grown as the structures of neighbourhood and community have weakened. This is the shadow side of growth in individual freedom and mobility.

We now know that, whatever the achievements of the welfare state, it has not arrested the drift toward greater isolation and the loss of connections. And so the burden on the state has become unsustainable, outstripping the willingness of the people as a whole to pay for it. Nor is uniform state welfare always efficient or effective.

As the informal structures of neighbourliness have diminished, the structures of state welfare have had to carry greater and greater demand. When people appear again and again at a doctor’s surgery because it is the only place where they are guaranteed a chance to talk to another person, something vital is missing from the fabric of the community around them.

Identifying isolation as an evil does not mean that Want, Ignorance, Squalor, Idleness or Disease are no longer spectres haunting Britain. They continue to wreck lives and stunt people’s development, and the struggle against them is constant, for individuals, communities and government, despite all that has been achieved since World War II.

Beveridge himself recognised that a welfare state would only defeat the Five Giant Evils if strong social bonds, viable communities and a clear commitment to voluntary action were also prominent in the nation’s life. Today, those characteristics are not dead — but they are fragile and often desperately attenuated, allowing social isolation to corrode lives in ways which no state system can adequately address.

The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, is the unfolding story of the people of God. The relationship at the heart of the story may be exemplified by the way individuals encounter God, but the individual is not the story. Although the Bible may elicit an individual reaction and commitment in the reader, that vocation is to follow Christ as a disciple in company with other disciples. Where the Old Testament is the story of the relationship of God to a chosen race, the New Testament opens out that story of belonging and makes it accessible to all through Christ.

Part of the universal vision of the New Testament stems from the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. The Trinity reflects the insight of the earliest Christians that God is ineluctably relational. God is love, and that love is at work in the bonds between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Christ we are enabled to become at one with God and thus to be inducted into that bond of love. God’s Kingdom is fulfilled when the bond of love that is God’s-self embraces the whole human family.

What, then, of St Paul’s stricture that “anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3: 10)? Paul here shows that sin has consequences in this life as well as the next. In Genesis, Adam’s fall condemns him to toil for his living – if someone refuses to work assuming that they will nonetheless be provided for, they are denying, idolatrously, that Adam’s fall applies to them. But the stress is on unwillingness, not inability. Paul is not addressing those who would work but cannot.

the church’s work for others would be mere sticking plaster over an open wound if wider social policy is not working with the grain of voluntary action rather than against it. The church’s social engagement is part of its mission to model a better society “on earth as in heaven”. We seek to play our part – but the well-being of all demands that others, in government and across society, seek as far as possible to share a vision of the common good.

Welfare and connectedness

Looking in depth at welfare policy, it clearly needs to be understood in connection with wider economic policy, social policy, questions of social and world order, and so on.

Our faith locates us as part of God’s family which extends across every nation, culture and century. That global human fellowship is damaged when our definition of “us” is too narrow.

This semantic trend has had a rapid effect of separating those reliant on benefits from the rest of the population as if the former were a kind of lesser citizenry.

 Dilemmas of time – and correctives

 Human need often presents itself as a crisis of the moment, demanding an immediate response. But systems of support have consequences which only unfold over time. If people can rely on a safety net to protect them against immediate need, it can create a disincentive to avoid future crises.

There is nothing wrong with trying to design a welfare system which seeks to change human behaviour.

 Facing up to dependency

 Many critics of the welfare state emphasise its tendency to entrench dependency. But that claim needs to be nuanced. Dependency is a core characteristic of every human being.

Dependency-on the state, however, is a subtly different matter. Because the personal relationship between those who give and those who receive is missing, welfare recipients are liable to feel no responsibility to escape from the welfare structures. The challenge is to see dependency in terms of mutuality rather than as a one-way power relationship.

The discomfort of distinguishing between the “deserving and unde­serving poor” has combined with a more contemporary aversion to moral norms to imply that welfare systems must abdicate any respon­sibility for forming character. The key here is people’s ability to change — with or without help and encouragement. The permanently lame cannot be treated as if they could walk if they only had enough gumption. But the muddled, timid and confused can — with help — be enabled to live more ordered and resilient lives.

There is nothing wrong with trying to design a welfare system which seeks to change human behaviour. That was, indeed, part of Beveridge’s vision. (“He and Attlee saw the welfare state as teaching values of citizenship… a new citizen who prized, through welfare, the values of work, savings and honesty…” ). But changing human behaviour takes much longer than the alleviation of immediate suffering.

….This semantic trend has had a rapid effect of separating those reliant on benefits from the rest of the population as if the former were a kind of lesser citizenry. The fact that “welfare”, in its broader sense including education, health and pensions, is something that still benefits virtually everyone has become lost in public debate. One aspect of combating isolation is that the divisive rhetoric which portrays benefit recipients as “other” must be challenged–the rhetoric itself is a source of deep isolation.

Challenging some shibboleths

Some aspects of received wisdom on welfare may need to be re-examined. One, sometimes heard from critics of aspects of welfare reform, is that distinguishing between different causes of human need implies distinguishing between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. That distinction is loaded with unattractive

Connotations which close down argument before it has begun.  But the discomfort of distinguishing between the “deserving and undeserving poor” has combined with a more contemporary aversion to moral norms to imply that welfare systems must abdicate any responsibility for forming character.

The idea that social welfare should encourage virtue and discourage vice was an important part of the original vision of the welfare state. Family and community are essential schools of virtue –not least because virtuous behaviour grows out of bonds of love. Rebuilding informal networks of family, neighbourhood and community, is an imperative which could help restore the moral agreement around which a welfare consensus might emerge

The importance of place

 It should be economic common sense for welfare systems to strengthen people’s ties to their locality and not undermine them. Uprooting people to cheaper or smaller properties, often hundreds of miles away, severs informal networks of support and compan­ionship which will have enhanced people’s resilience and moderated their demands on the welfare system.

The importance of work

 We should support welfare policies which create incentives for work, and welfare delivery systems that assist people to find suitable work. Welfare should never be an alternative to employment for those who are able to work.

 The importance of families

 A viable welfare system needs to support individuals who are on their own, whilst ensuring that couples and families can flourish. If welfare policies have a role in promoting socially positive behaviour, policies which promote family stability are to be welcomed.

One theological objection to current policy concerns the implication that two children is the “right” number for a family and that the welfare system has no responsi­bility for supporting further chil­dren of benefit recipients. Despite advances in contraception, family size is not infallibly manageable.

 It is often argued that sanctions which reduce family income can punish innocent

children for the sins of their parents. Similarly, restrictions on the number of children for whom child benefit will be paid might be seen to penalise children who have the “misfortune” to be born into large families.

On the other hand, a powerful force for shaping adult behaviour may be anxiety about the impact of their actions on their children. How far should the state protect children from actions of their parents which might lower their living standards but do not otherwise put their children at direct risk?

Many Christians have severe reservations about any implication that an unexpected and financially crippling, pregnancy should be dealt with by abortion. Indeed, the Christian inheritance from Judaism has always treated children as a blessing to the whole community rather than a burden. This applies as much to the children of benefit recipients as to any child. Anything which sends an implicit message that a child is unwanted, unvalued or superfluous should be resisted, because it prioritises the cost factor in a way which dehumanises our whole narrative of welfare.

In many countries without developed welfare provision, large families are celebrated because having many children is a guarantee of security in old age. Policies which have the effect of limiting family size are a sure way to create a cadre of old people who have only the state to rely on for their long term care, not to mention damaging their human need for social connections.

Welfare and family breakdown

If the economy demands flexible workforces, it must pay the price in terms of weaker family structures and greater reliance on the state.

There are patently no easy answers here. But it would help if the wider social aspects of family and marriage breakdown were accorded the same attention to de­tail, when marriages end, as finan­cial and child care arrangements.

Perils of bureaucracy

Since 1945, the systems for deliver­ing welfare have become vastly more complex. The government’s plans to introduce Universal Credit deserve support in so far as they are likely to achieve the goals of simplification, transparency and intelligibility.

The more the system is stream­lined and simplified, the less flexibly it accommodates the diversity of human need. This dilemma might be mitigated by ensuring that a relatively simple scheme is delivered through mechanisms with a human and accessible face. There is not much love in a system run by robots.


It cannot be right that benefit claim­ants are sanctioned for being caught in the dilemmas and systemic fail­ures which affect everyone in mod­ern society… The JobCentre manager (or the Minister responsible for welfare policy, come to that) may be affected by the same cancelled bus or their own sick child, but they will not be treated as an offender and see their basic level of subsistence damaged as a result.

Benefit levels and the National Living Wage

If welfare is primarily a safety net for sustaining people through short periods of misfortune, a subsistence level supporting basic nutrition and shelter for the whole family would probably suffice. But no govern­ment today can guarantee that periods of welfare dependency remain short. Nor would subsist­ence levels of support be right for those who, through disability, illness or other unavoidable causes, will never be able to play a full part in the economy. Moderate levels of social participation are essential if people are not to lose links to neighbours and friends with all the consequences of isolation that attend such losses. Social participa­tion requires some disposable income above what is earmarked for subsistence – but not necessarily a great deal more.

Mutuality and contributory schemes

One approach to enabling welfare to build up social bonds, mooted from time to time across the political divide, is the restoration of the contributory principle.

The church and welfare policy today

Recent welfare policies, whilst sometimes clumsily implemented or ill communicated, are not without moral purpose. Just as Faith in the City failed to see the moral vision that informed Margaret Thatcher’s administrations, and therefore failed to engage coherently with that vision, so we must avoid the trap of seeing present policy direction as motivated solely by economic concerns. This paper suggests that one guiding principle for our collective responses should be the restoration of social bonds, the encouragement of neighbourliness and the attack on trends that exacerbate isolation.

The report is online here 

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Sermon for Proper 13/Ordinary 18 C Rich fool

Image result for rich foolSet your minds on the things that are above. Words from today’s second reading

In the name……………….

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end about their wives, their homes, their jobs. Every afternoon the man by the window described all the things he could see outside the window. The other man began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be enlivened by all the activity and colour of the world outside.  The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every colour of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. He would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One day, the man in the next bed choked to death.  His lifeless body was removed.

The other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. He slowly strained to turn and look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall.

He asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate to describe such wonderful things outside this window. She said he was blind and could not even see the wall. “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”

The “Rich Fool” in our gospel reading lacked imagination, lacked vision, to see past his wall. His purpose in life was limited; so he had to hoard resources. As our first reading said, The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. But Jesus teaches us to look beyond what we see . . . to imagine better realities, and to implement them here to create better futures. He said, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’

“Take Care:” people often say that to each other on parting. In our gospel, “Take Care” in the Greek means “discern clearly” from a root word meaning to stare at. The idea is to focus with intensity so as to discern the reality of the situation.

Jesus’ audience would probably have known Sirach 11:18-19: “One becomes rich through diligence and self-denial, and the reward allotted to him is this: when he says, ‘I have found rest, and now I shall feast on my goods!’ he does not know how long it will be until he leaves them to others and dies”.

This has many parallels in literature of the time. Such advice frequently takes the form of recommending a lifestyle which is comfortable and not constantly stressed by wanting more and more. It seems sensible. Why die of a heart attack, work all hours of the day and night, only to find oneself burnt out? It is too late then to have time for the children. They have grown up and flown the nest. At most you may have energy for the grandchildren, but your life has left you very limited in what you can do and give.

This kind of madness plagues our society. For ourselves and for others we need to take control of the options and not be caught up blindly into the rat race of success and profit, of ‘life’ being equated with happiness.

Western society abounds with seductive invitations to a happy lifestyle, usually promoting new products and promising that ‘feel good factor’. Advertisers exploit our sense of dissatisfaction so that we just must have the latest, blindly building bigger barns, bigger wardrobes, possessing fancier gadgets, the latest mobile phone, sporting flashier cars.

For the Jews of the time, an abundant crop was a sign of God’s favour. Jesus’s audience would remember the surplus and storing of food by Joseph in Egypt. In that case, the food during the time of plenty was stored so that it might feed all the people during the future famine but in our parable the “miracle” harvest is stored for the owner’s own enjoyment not for the community. Hear Then the Parables – Brandon Scott The rich man uses the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” “my” ten times in only 41 words.

Shakespeare asked:  Why so large a cost, having so short a lease
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend? . . .
. . . within be fed, without be rich no more. Sonnet 146

The Letter to the Colossians was probably written after an earthquake, sometime between 60 and 64 C.E., which destroyed nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis, as well as Colossae. The letter would have been received by people still in the process of cleaning up the rubble, dealing with bodies and grieving families. How would they respond to the statement that they have died and their life is hidden in Christ v. 3?

“Put to death” that list of things that are “earthly”.

Those people were starting a new life in more ways than one! Paul goes on, ‘you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self ‘ I like the comparison Paul makes here to the putting on clothes.  When I get dressed, I don’t jump into them all at once. It’s a process of putting one leg of my trousers on at a time. And in the right order as well. I can’t put my shoes on before I put on my trousers.

Then Paul talks of “being renewed”.  Some Christians want there to be a burst of lightning, a thunder clap and we are brand new and changed. We forget that it’s a lifelong process of sanctification.

James Alison wrote: When we are called to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth’ what we are being exhorted to do is allow our imagination to be centred on the good things that are in store for us and toward which we are tending in urgent hope, since it is this that enables us to begin to desire those things. As we allow our imaginations to be nourished by what is good for us, so our desire becomes re-formed to tend toward those things . . . It is because we are being given something that we are able to do without other things. Spirituality in Season – R. Thompson (Canterbury 2008) p.66

 allow our imagination to be centred on the good things that are in store for us

this enables us to begin to desire those things.

desire becomes re-formed

Set your minds on the things that are above.

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