Political Rows and Family Quarrels: a World Divided

A few days ago, on the centenary of the Armistice, the whole world vowed ‘never again’. Never again would we allow personal rivalries, political ambition or old enmities to divide us and lead us into war. For me, the most unforgettable image was that of Chancellor Merkel and President Macron walking hand in hand, the terrible conflicts of the past not forgotten but forgiven. This morning, alas, the world looks a bleaker and less hopeful place. The people of Yemen are being starved into submission; the turmoil over Brexit is proving endlessly destructive and bitterly personal; the new rift in Orthodoxy has dashed the hopes of further ecumenical rapprochement; the Catholic Church is riven by dissent and disagreement; and families without number are divided against themselves, even refusing to speak to one another. It is sad, bad and mad. In all these disputes one element stands out: consciousness of having right on one’s side (allegedly, at least) and therefore, by extension, the right to tell others what they should do. I wonder if it is ever as clear-cut as that.

Think about Brexit for a moment and the chaos that is descending upon Britain. I am genuinely puzzled by the frequent assertion that ‘this is not the Brexit people voted for.’ On the Referendum ballot paper I recall only a choice between ‘in’ or ‘out’. That was a decision we could take as a country. Anything more, crucially the nature of any actual Brexit, could only be decided in conjunction with all the other member states of the E.U. But one could be forgiven for thinking that was not the case when we have everyone apparently knowing what we did vote for, ministers resigning helter-skelter and M.P.s demanding that ‘May must go’ as though a change of leadership at this point would magically transform the situation. We are clearly not listening to the other E.U. member states. We are acting as though Brexit were all about us and we could dictate to others what they should do*.

Next, think about family quarrels for a moment. How sad and protracted they can prove! Someone does something, or fails to do something, and another member of the family takes umbrage and decides to deal with the hurt they feel by cutting themselves off or cutting others off (it amounts to the same thing in the end). I have seen at first hand the distress and pain caused by a parent’s refusal to accept a son’s choice of partner and the subsequent estrangement, not helped by the parent’s lecturing the son about his duty (as the parent sees it) and how he should behave. nor by the son’s angry riposte. I have seen also the sadness when family members die estranged from one another, unforgiving, alas, but convinced to the last that they are right. Can anyone really be ‘right’ if they are inflicting huge pain on another, a pain that can never be lessened in this life?

The prophet Isaiah give us the beautiful image of the unfurling of a clenched fist as a sign of reconciliation. A clenched fist can neither give nor receive; it can only destroy. An open hand is much more vulnerable, by definition, but it is also much more useful. It can give, receive, impart blessing and bestow comfort. It can stretch out across seemingly impassable gulfs. It may still bear the wounds of suffering, as the hands of Christ bear for evermore the imprint of the nails, but it is not limited by them. In the same way, shouting at one another, using words to wound and hurt, is a misuse of the gift of speech. St Benedict urges us again and again to be careful what we say, to bless not curse, but how difficult we seem to find it!

This morning most of us cannot do very much about the big divisions in the world, but there may be someone to whom we need to speak words of forgiveness or from whom we ourselves must seek forgiveness. It is not weakness to do so but true strength. May we all find the grace we need for that.

*I’d be grateful if readers would not use this illustration as an invitation to wage war over Brexit in the comments section. Please read my second paragraph in the context of the whole.

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The Very Young and Very Old (Again)

Yesterday we re-read St Benedict’s challenging chapter on the care of the sick; today he gives us just a few sentences about the very young and the very old, most of which concern food and the times of meals (RB 37). I think that demonstrates his first-hand experience of community life and his sympathy with those who might easily be overlooked as ‘too demanding’. Most of us can remember what it was like to be really, really hungry as youngsters, when we could devour huge plates of food and remain whiplash thin. Some of us may have reached the age when the appetite has to be tempted, or when a delay in regular meal-times causes all kinds of discomfort. Either way, we know that something as basic as food profoundly affects our sense of well-being.

I think RB 37 is a good reminder that we can be too focused on our own agenda to be truly mindful of the needs of others who may be less able than we are to express their views or ask for help. Benedict is ever the realist. Human nature inclines us to be sympathetic to both old and young, he says, but the Rule must still make provision for them (RB 37.1). He knows we can fail those who are weak and defenceless because we don’t really ‘see’ them. This morning I re-read an oldish (July 2018) article in the Independent about the numbers of terminally ill people who are homeless and dying on our streets. We don’t ‘see’ them, either. As our M.P.s and others debate the proposed Brexit exit deal Theresa May has announced, we need to recall that, in the end, abstractions like sovereignty must be enfleshed in the lives of real people; that, whatever decisions are ultimately made, serving the common good may require sacrifice as well as gain. Both young and old have their own special vulnerabilities. A civilized society will not ignore them

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Learning from St Dyfrig (Dubricius)

Today is the feast of St Dyfrig, also known as Dubricius or Devereux, who was born a few miles from here at Madley and is roughly contemporary with St Benedict (his dates are usually given as c. 465 to c. 550). Most of the information we have about him comes from the Book of Llandaff, written about five hundred years after his death. The Wikipedia article gives a good summary hereWhat interests me, however, is not so much the historicity or otherwise of the unique events recorded in the lectiones as what is common to many accounts of early British, Welsh and Irish saints. Two hagiographical tropes stand out in particular: illegitimate birth and a miracle of healing.

Dyfrig was the illegitimate son of Efrddyl, daughter of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng. The story goes that Peibo threw Efrddyl into the River Wye when he discovered she was pregnant, but was unsuccessful in drowning her. There was a reconciliation later on when Dyfrig cured his grandfather of leprosy by touching him, but it is his illegitimacy that is especially interesting. It is remarkable just how many British or Welsh saints were allegedly born of rape or incest. Some scholars have suggested that this may explain why so many were brought up in monasteries as the only option available to them or their luckless mothers. I wonder, however, whether there is a deeper significance, the hagiographer using the story of illegitimate birth to show the despised and feared outsider who is beloved of God overcoming every obstacle to growth in holiness. Dyfrig went on to have a brilliant ecclesiastical career, but his early years were precarious, and even his later priesthood could not be taken for granted, given the requirements then in force. He breaks the mould of expectation, so to say.

It is not difficult to see how we can apply this thinking to our own times. Most of us are blind to our own prejudices, but there are also collective prejudices which allow us to despise or undervalue others. The idea of a saintly banker, for example, would probably raise howls of derision in Britain today, but is there any reason for assuming all bankers are bad? Of course not, but many unthinkingly do. I’m sure you can think of others whom we have a tendency to dismiss or treat with contempt. Yet we have in Dyfrig a reminder that ‘God does not see as man sees: God looks at the heart.’ I am reminded that when St Edith was taken to task by St Aethelwold in those very words for wearing a princely garment above her hair-shirt (which he couldn’t see), she responded with a crisp, ‘Quite so, my Lord; and I have given mine.’  Something to ponder there, I suggest.

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All Benedictine Saints

Today we keep the feast of All Benedictine Saints. There are, as you might expect, very many of them, not all of them canonised. They are part of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ surrounding us whom we tend to take for granted but who are sometimes vividly present to us. Most of us have our personal favourites among them from whom we draw inspiration and courage. I, for instance, have always had a devotion to the Anglo-Saxons, the nuns especially, but I don’t think there are any distinctions of race, sex or nationality in heaven. As far as I’m concerned, the saintly wearers of the Black habit and the White command my love and respect, irrespective of what they were or where they came from in this life. St Benedict himself was insistent that ‘we are all one in Christ and serve under the banner of the same Lord’ (RB 2.20) and I like to think that Benedictines today are just as mindful of our unity in Christ transcending everything else.

It isn’t easy, of course. We live in a world where competitiveness has become the norm and, in the West at least, status is much craved and invariably linked to how much we have. The radical dispossession of the monk or nun makes no sense in such an environment, but there is worse. Many people have an idea of what the monk or nun ‘should be’. Often it is a romantic idea based on a mixture of comparatively little fact laced with a lot of fiction. It is usually unhistorical and represents a conflation of various traditions in the Church. Sometimes the effects are funny, as when I was taken to task by one earnest shopper in Morrison’s who demanded to know why I didn’t have a Rosary hanging from my belt. A little explanation followed, but I could see he was not convinced: must be one of these ‘modern nuns’ who are undermining the faith . . . . Sometimes the effects are more serious, as when we are told we should do or be this or that, and if the speaker happens to be a bishop or pope, well!!! At such times, the example of our Benedictine saints can be very helpful. Or, if not helpful, a source of comfort: we have been here before, which, given the long history of Benedictinism, is usually true.

Today, as we give thanks for the witness of all who have gone before and been made holy by their fidelity to the Gospel and the Rule, let us also ask their prayers: for Benedictine communities the world over, especially those facing a difficult or uncertain future; for our oblates, associates and friends; for those discerning a monastic vocation; for our online community and all who turn to us in moments of need or distress. This morning I posted two prayer intentions on Twitter, one for Benedictines and another for peace between Israel and Gaza. I notice that the intention for peace is attracting more attention than the one for Benedictine communities, but have you ever thought what would be the consequence of the Benedictines disappearing? No more Benedictine saints in the making — the drying up of a mighty stream of holiness in the Church . Please pray for us all. We do need your prayers!

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That Monday Morning Feeling Again

The hum of the washing machine and a slightly soapy smell in the air are a reminder that it is Monday again. It’s a very ordinary Monday, too (St Josaphat is a ‘collect only’ memoria for us). All I have to look forward to are a number of forms to be filled in for the bank, the Charity Commission. and other worthy bodies. Even the dog has decided to have a duvet day by the look of him. So, do I launch upon the world my own version of The Inspirational Quote to make your Monday morning feel even worse than it probably does already? Certainly not!

The point about ordinariness is that it is ordinary. commonplace. Most people’s lives are filled with routine, the unspectacular quotidian, and it is no different in a monastery. We do the same things day after day, sometimes barely registering that we have done them, and only seem to appreciate their value when  we are unable to do them for some reason. But St Benedict is insistent that it is the ordinary that will make us holy, gradually fashioning us into the icons of Christ we are meant to become. It is no accident that we know next to nothing of Christ’s early life, the years of quiet obscurity in Nazareth, but their very ordinariness prepared him for his public ministry, suffering and death. For a Christian, following in his footsteps, all life is a preparation for death and the entry into fullness of life — even those apparently endless Monday mornings. Treasure them.

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Remembering and Praying

Throughout the year a vast tide of blood-red poppies has been sweeping over the land. They cascade from church pulpits and castle battlements, flow down lamp posts and spill out into municipal parks and private gardens. Poppies are tied to radiator grilles, pinned to buttonholes, printed on scarves and dangle from pet collars. Silhouettes of World War I Tommies stand in graveyards, surprise us on street corners, burst out of hedges and break the skyline as no real soldier ever would. On Sunday, in a huge act of collective remembrance, Britain will mark the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day with memorial services and parades, a two-minute silence and the plangent tones of a bugler sounding the Last Post. It will not be without controversy, however; for, as each year passes, and the personal connection some of us have with those who died in World War I or II begins to fade, the whole idea of remembering becomes more problematic, particularly as we do not seem to agree about what we are remembering or why.

Problems with the idea of remembrance
For me, as a Catholic, the act of remembering is relatively uncomplicated because it is always associated with prayer. During the two-minute silence, I pray for the dead — all the dead who have died in war, whatever side they were on — and I ask God to teach us how to live at peace with one another. A friend once challenged me on this, asking how I could pray for those who have been guilty of war crimes. My reply was simple: prayer isn’t a reward for being good (i.e. being on the ‘right’ or winning side); it isn’t some kind of Good Conduct medal we bestow on those we deem worthy of it; it is an acknowledgement that sin and suffering have scarred the face of humanity and we all stand in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. This kind of prayer is a prayer of repentance, a plea for help in which gratitude and regret are equally mixed; and it is our privilege to offer it for the dead and for ourselves.

But what of those who don’t or can’t pray, for whom Remembrance Sunday has nationalistic, even jingoistic, overtones, or who see the commemoration as an exercise in collective nostalgia, shot through with sentimentality? Is there a point at which we should stop remembering, or is the problem more to do with how we remember? There is something to be said for both. To my mind, a centenary marks a natural division. Those who fought in the First World War are now all dead, as are those who took part in the earlier conflicts we now forget or leave to the historians to recall. How we remember is more complicated. We do not simply pray for the dead on Remembrance Sunday, we surround the day with the trappings of Establishment and nationalism or kidnap it to advance an agenda of our own about Brexit, race or empire, to name just a few. I question whether that is what those who took part in World War I or World War II would wish us to do — or even understand.

How older generations looked at war
For instance, I have been pondering how my parents and grandparents thought about war. The men went off to fight because it was their duty, so they said, but they had no personal animosity or grievance against those with whom they fought. They did not hate; they did not think themselves superior; they believed, most of the time, in the cause for which they fought, but they weren’t blind to the contradictions inherent in it. One of my grandfathers was blown up in an early British tank, survived that, then spent the rest of the war as a P.o.W. in a Silesian salt mine. He considered himself lucky, despite what it did to his health. My other grandfather served in what later became the Fleet Air Arm, saw some terrible action but also survived, then lost two of his sons in World War II. Yet he bore his losses silently. I never heard him speak a single word against anyone. War wasn’t glorious, it was brutal; building the peace was what mattered, and that was the task he and others of his generation took to heart.

I can remember my father talking about his experience at El Alamein and other battlefronts, always hoping the world would never again be plunged into total war, always sad that there had been so much loss of life on both sides, so many civilians killed, so much beauty and history destroyed. I also remember the father of a friend, who had himself been imprisoned in a Nazi death camp, rapping on the dinner table and saying that the lesson we had to learn from history was not what Nazis could do to Jews but what human beings can do to one another. I don’t think they were unique, but how I wish we heard their voices now rather than the highly selective voices of the media and popular historians!

Has our focus changed?
Are we in danger of losing the kind of historical perspective I have tried to sketch and substituting something less truthful, precisely because those voices have fallen silent? During the course of this year I have begun to feel that we are. The poppies and the silhouettes and other artworks are fine, but perhaps they change the focus of what we are supposedly commemorating and allow other elements to creep in. War as spectacle, war as the voicing of views and attitudes that have more to do with us than with the fallen, makes me uneasy. As a corollary, I would argue that this year’s commemoration of the Armistice should be the last. That does not mean that we should cease to pray or reflect on what war is and does — far from it. Nor do I think that we should abandon those who suffer even now from war and the effects of war. On the contrary, I should like to see much more help and understanding for those who suffer PTSD, whose limbs and lives have been shattered, for example. But I think we need to question more rigorously what our acts of remembrance are meant to achieve and why we surround them with so much that is alien, if that is the right word, to those who actually did the fighting and dying we commemorate.

A commentator said recently that in politics people are driven by four things, love, hope, hate and fear, and the two most powerful are hate and fear. It is true that society has a way of creating objects of hatred and fear, and I have asked myself several times whether we are simply prolonging the quarrels and tragedies of the past as a way of avoiding some unpalatable truths in the present. The British obsession with Germany and with Hitler is a case in point. We refuse to let it go and thereby show ourselves still bound, and, what is worse, perpetrate a new injustice. We do not need the memory of war to validate what we are now.We gain nothing by picking away at old wrongs; we need to learn from them instead. Perhaps we forget that we are not the heroes we celebrate, nor do we become heroes by association or by demonising some enemy, old or new. Do we use the past as a way of avoiding commitment to what the present and future ask of us?

A recommitment to service
To an earlier generation concepts like duty and service meant something. They were the motivation for conduct that might otherwise seem unfathomable. I daresay there are some who regard the stoicism with which our parents and grandparents endured privation and loss as silly, but we can think and say such things because of the sacrifices they made. Wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute to the dead to reflect more deeply on the values of duty and public service and how we measure up to them today? Quite how we do that I’m not sure because the language of public discourse seems to have lost that important element of civility. We talk of deals and our own best interest, what’s good for us in the narrowest sense, not what would make the world a better place. But it does not have to be so. We can think anew about how to serve, how to do our duty, what our duty consists in, and surely everyone would benefit.

If this should be the last Armistice Day we mark in a public way, renewing our commitment to service would be a sign that the poppies and the bugle calls were not mere sentimentality or self-indulgence but tokens of our having learned the lessons of the past, of our being ready to forge a new and better future. It would be proof that the Great War for Civilisation was not fought in vain. I pray it may be so.

Two earlier posts on Remembrance Sunday

https://www.ibenedictines.org/2015/11/08/remembrance-sunday-2015/

https://www.ibenedictines.org/2013/11/10/remembrance-sunday-2013/

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The Secret of Benedictine Prayer

I should like to quote a few sentences about prayer written in the sixth century:

Whenever we want to ask something from powerful people, we do not presume to do so without humility and respect. How much more ought we to pray to the Lord God of all things with profound humility and pure devotion! And we must realize that we shall be heard not for our many words, but for our purity of heart and tears of compunction. Prayer, therefore, ought always to be short and pure, unless perhaps prolonged by the inspiration of God’s grace. In community, however, prayer should be kept very short; and as soon as the signal has been given by the superior, all should rise together. (RB 20, trans. Wybourne)

That’s it. That’s all St Benedict has to say about what we might call private or individual prayer after devoting twelve chapters to the common liturgical prayer of the community. Of course, the whole Rule is about our relationship with God and is permeated with the spirit of prayer, but Benedict’s explicit treatment of the subject is very short, very simple and takes a lifetime to understand fully. In a few brief sentences, silvery in their alliteration and poetic form, he gives us what we may think of as the secret of Benedictine prayer. It is to be short and pure.

It is no accident that chapter 20 comes at the end of the so-called liturgical code. The common prayer of the community flows into the private prayer of the monk and back again. But whereas the liturgical prayer of the community is minutely prescribed, the prayer of the individual is not. Benedict’s insistence that prayer should be short and pure doesn’t mean it should be perfunctory — far from it! It is to be intensely focused, and most of us cannot manage that for very long without becoming tired or disheartened. The few moments of individual prayer that come at the end of every Hour of the Divine Office are not to be unduly prolonged by the superior. Too long a pause and some will start fidgeting and distract others. Better that the signal to rise should be given and individuals decide for themselves whether to return to choir to pray longer.

Prayer always comes to us as sheer gift, but we can still try to manipulate it (and God), usually by droning on and on, which is why Benedict says that tears of compunction and purity of heart are what are needed, not many words. Tears of compunction have a long and beautiful history in monastic tradition. They are a sign of the truly repentant heart, of those who trust God completely and are therefore able to acknowledge how far short of the glory of God they are, and how the mercy of God spans the abyss between.

I think, however, that the word ‘purity’ is really key to the whole chapter. It locates Benedict’s teaching in the monastic tradition of the desert, of Cassian and early writers on prayer, and echoes the Lord’s own exhortation not to heap up words as the pagans do. Just as the Rule encourages us to live a pure (single-minded) life, so Benedict wants our prayer to be single-minded in its focus on God. That is why the pauses in the Divine office matter and why every Hour concludes with a few moments of silent prayer. As the words die away we are left contemplating the Word himself. Without this focus on God we do not allow the liturgy to have its full effect in us and our private prayer misses the mark. To achieve this focus on God we need a measure of self-discipline and restraint, even of things that are otherwise good and helpful. In other words, Benedict is urging us all to face God in prayer without defences, without anything that could get in the way of our being open to him, and he is wise enough to know that most of us cannot keep that up for very long. Strain is the enemy of prayer because it produces tension and turns our gaze away from God back on ourselves. The short, pure prayer Benedict encourages is the mystic’s ‘longing dart of love’, the ‘short prayer that pierceth heaven,’ the poet’s ‘heaven in ordinarie’. It is simultaneously easy and difficult; a gift, but one we have to work for.

Unlike many other great writers, Benedict was not systematic in his treatment of prayer. There are no divisions into mansions or nights, nothing to capture our imagination or enable us to understand the process of being stripped bare of what we once relied upon. There is just the ‘simple, naked intent unto God’ as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says; and it is enough. That is the secret of Benedictine prayer.

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Something for Liturgists to Remember

We are almost at the end of the liturgical code in the Rule of St Benedict. We have read through the chapters that tell us how many and which psalms and canticles are to be said at the various Hours of the day and noted Benedict’s instructions about the way in which they are to be performed. We stand in honour of the gospel; we sing the Invitatory psalm of Vigils rather slowly, so that latecomers have time to arrive; we know when to sing alleluia and when not. But it is only after all these regulations that we come to chapter 19 and Benedict’s treatment of the dispositions we need to sing the Divine Office worthily. How many liturgists today would think of leaving to the end of their treatise what most of us would think of as the starting-point?

Benedict reminds us that God and his angels are always present and urges us to ‘sing the psalms in such a way that mind and voice may be in harmony.’ (RB 19.7) There are times when the routine of the Office may overtake us, when we sing the words and perform the ritual gestures with less than full attention, but that is clearly not the ideal. I think the placing of this chapter is an oblique comment on the temptation to think that the correct performance of the liturgy is enough; it isn’t. Our hearts and minds must be fully engaged, too, and as anyone committed to reciting the Divine Office every day will admit, that is not always easy. Moreover, although Benedict makes plain elsewhere that he isn’t keen on those with very modest singing or reading abilities acting as cantors or giving out antiphons, he assumes that the choral office will be the prayer of the whole community. It is not the preserve of the chosen few. The corollary is, of course, that everyone has the duty to prepare properly. Those who need better knowledge of the psalms and lessons, for example, are told to devote the time between Vigils and Lauds to studying them (RB 8.3). As we shall see elsewhere in the Rule, mistakes caused by negligence are subject to correction. Benedict will not excuse any slovenliness or inattention.

So, what can we take from this for today, especially if we are not monks or nuns? I think in the first instance we can take heart. Prayer is important, and the common prayer of the community, be it the local congregation or that of the universal Church, has special value. It requires of us more than mechanical participation. It is a means of entering into the prayer of Christ himself, ‘the chief prayer of the psalms’ as St Augustine calls him, which means we must make an effort to be attentive. Little by little prayer changes us. One day, we may change the world — but only insofar as we have allowed Christ to become all in all to us.

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Tomorrow is Too Late

There are times when the athleticism of the Rule of St Benedict exhausts me. We are constantly being urged to hasten, run, be quick and so on. One sentence above all comes to haunt me whenever I feel a little folding of the arms would be nice: ‘Let us make haste to do now what may profit us for ever’ — currendum et agendum est modo quod in perpetuo nobis expediat (Prologue 44). There is no getting away from it. A life of ease is not for us who have vowed to follow Christ as monks or nuns, but do we have anything useful to offer those outside the cloister?

In the West the concept of leisure has become highly developed, so much so that it is even called ‘the leisure industry’. We recognize that all work and no play make Jack and Jill not only dull but ill, too. Accordingly, millions of pounds are spent on holidays and leisure activities, but these often seem to produce their own kind of stress. Is my holiday as good as yours (checks Facebook or Instagram); am I doing enough running/gym work (checks fitness bracelet), and so on. Along with the expectation of having a holiday or time off from work, there is also an element of competitiveness, of comparing ourselves with others even when we are relaxing, that fundamentally undermines the whole idea of lessening the tension or busyness we experience at other times. What is worse, we are actually so busy being leisured that we have no time for activities that make different demands on us, such as prayer, charity, service of others and so on.

If we have the opportunity of doing good, of being kind, of making the world a better place for even just one person, then tomorrow is indeed too late. We must do it now. We have a tendency to put off what what we find difficult or disagreeable. Our intentions are usually good. We are always going to do such and such — pray, donate to the Food Bank, visit that curmudgeonly neighbour down the road — but somehow this is never the right moment. We have too much to do or we need a rest or . . . The excuses are endless. St Benedict is not very good at making allowances for that kind of procrastination. He is kindly, sympathetic, but quite insistent. We must do now what will profit us for ever. Our acts of kindness and generosity will never appear on Facebook or Instagram, but I daresay they register on the heavenly fitness bracelet. Our spiritual health is as important as our physical or mental health, and it has a direct impact on others.

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A Terrible Irony

Yesterday we read of the death of Joachim Ronneberg, the brave Norwegian who, with five others, in a daring raid on Rjukan, Telemark, in 1943 effectively put an end to Nazi attempts to develop an atomic bomb. We also read of President Trump’s threat to start another arms race by withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, I’m sure I’m not alone in seeing here a terrible irony. In eighty years we have swung from thinking nuclear war a bad thing, to be avoided at all costs, to relying upon a nuclear arsenal to ‘keep us safe’. I’m not an expert in what keeps people safe from war or violence, but I have a hunch that those who amass weapons are inclined to use them or, at least, become more casual about using them when they perceive a threat to something they value. The world’s leaders usually have bunkers to go to; it is the ordinary man, woman and child who must bear the brunt of the violence. We saw that in Japan at the end of World War II. Pray God we never see it again.

So, why do I write about this today? It is for the simple reason that, although it is our leaders who decide issues of war and peace, we, as citizens, have a huge responsibility to hold our leaders to account, to make our views known and not allow the world to blunder into another war — one in which we know there will be no winners. If we don’t, we give our leaders carte blanche to perpetrate whatever wrong they choose. No one in their right mind would choose destruction, but it has often been the unintended consequence of not being challenged or failing to foresee the consequences of certain policies or actions. Today I’m praying for wisdom and restraint in China, Russia and the U.S.A. and in all those lesser states, like North Korea, that will be taking a keen interest in how the world reacts.

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