Time To Take Stock

Just about every day I seriously consider coming off social media. I vaguely envy those who’ve managed to make the break. I’m beginning to think there’s a stigma attached to even trying to do this. Why is it so difficult? There are of course all sorts of valid reasons for staying with it and, to be honest, the fear of isolation and loneliness is one of them, but I also realise that being caught up with facebook and twitter, neither increases or diminishes that particular state of mind, or perhaps it does both. Therein lies the confusion many of us experience in regard to social media.

The illusion of freedom that social media bestows makes us all vulnerable – and hence hurtable. We may feel impregnable, behind a computer screen alone against the world, but there is no telling who is out there, or how they will read us, what tender vulnerability we will touch on, wittingly or unwittingly, and how they will reciprocate, when we have taken one too many risks with a tweet or a post, and left ourselves momentarily exposed.

So the media, and social media especially, is encouraging a kind of ghetto mentality, one with which people can identify by being part of a group which will keep them safe, or at least provide support and refuge when what is said or half said hits them where they are most vulnerable. But we are all vulnerable to being hit, or excluded from the group, one way or another. We are all on the defensive. As a result of this none of us is truly free.

As I ponder whether or not to come off social media, I also have to ask myself what this fundamentally defensive attitude of mind does to us as a society. What kind of society are we becoming? Are we truly free? Embodied in the idea of freedom is that of liberality, which also means generosity, generosity of spirit. There is a growing antipathy towards these two ‘graces’ which are often cynically conflated and written off as ‘liberal elitism’.  Bearing in mind that November is the month of remembrance, it is worth recalling the sacrifices made in recent history by two generations in the name of this very freedom, this liberality, this generosity of spirit.  

How do our notions of being a free society sit with theirs? Perhaps it was easier for them to think of themselves as a free society, one which was about belonging together in freedom of spirit, because they had a visible common enemy to defeat. We have many enemies, but they are not visible in the same way as those of our grandparents and great grandparents. Our enemies thrive on isolationism, on the sovereign power of the individual. Without a visible common enemy they translate into nationalism, identity politics and the cult of celebrity leadership.

As a result of this we allow ourselves to be identified with the kind of people who embody our fantasies. We want stardom, because it is the opposite of vulnerability and of wisdom. It makes few demands on our intelligence or sense of right and wrong. It evokes a certain kind of impregnability, often pertaining to an imagined past. But in reality it speaks of rootlessness and of a people which seems to have lost all sense of purpose, because it has lost sight of its own history. It does not seem to be rooted in anything that gives meaning or shape to its life, still less to its future as one of a wider global society.

The celebrity leader appeals to the rootless because, like any other celebrity, he has no time for anyone or anything other than himself and his immediate short-term objectives. Stay focused on him and on his fantasies and all will be well. Celebrity leaders seem to be largely male, perhaps because the male leader, when he is intoxicated by power, plays to our fantasies, and feeds on our complacency, as he persuades us that his objectives are all that we could possibly need or want.

The celebrity leader succeeds through lies and duplicity because we have given up on the real meaning of freedom, on the kind of liberality which allows us to believe in our capacity for right judgment and goodness. We have given up on ourselves. More importantly, the celebrity leader succeeds, and will succeed again, because we, as a society, have little sense of belonging to the wider sociality which makes up the planet we inhabit, and of the responsibilities we bear to it. We have also given up on the infinite source of goodness itself. Perhaps it is time to take stock of these things and turn back before it is too late.

The Latter Times

‘In the latter times’ writes one of the contributors to the book of Daniel ‘Many shall be running back and forth and evil shall increase.’ (Dan. 12:4) Whoever was writing may have borrowed the words from elsewhere and re-worked them slightly to fit the times he or she was living in, times when a people were being oppressed by a powerful ruler. The point of the book lies both in its poetry and in its prophetic witness. Prophecy is concerned with history – specifically, God’s involvement in history and the extent to which God may or may not play a part in shaping it. In the bible, poetry gives voice to God’s passionate love for his people.

Prophecy discerns how his purposes are to be worked out in their life together. There have been many ‘latter times’ in the history of the human race, some of them arguably within the reaches of our own memories. One, perhaps, being experienced right now. There will undoubtedly be more.

If we stick with the book of Daniel as a basic blueprint or model for what these ‘latter times’ might be taken to mean, or what they might look like, we see not just individuals speaking into the future, but whole populations moving and acting. We see migrations and mass movements, the movements of dissent and sometimes of revolution.

Right now, in the UK, we are watching two movements of dissent as they appear to converge on one another. They are unprecedented in their size and remarkable for what can only be described as their solemnity. They are, for the most part, more like religious processions than political demonstrations. Prayer is seen to be going on in at least one of them. It is as if God is not simply being invoked. He is present to the moment, involved in the course of history. In this particular instance I think especially of the Extinction Rebellion protests that have been taking place in London and elsewhere in the UK. But I am also thinking of the one million people who turned out on those same streets a few days later to demand a final say in the Brexit process.

There was a certain stillness about the march which ought to have struck fear in the hearts of the powerful. A riot would have been frightening, but this steadiness of purpose, this silence at the heart of things, spoke not so much of the power of the people pitting itself against the power of government, as of authenticity.

Authenticity is the mark of the genuine authority which comes with what the bible calls righteousness. Embedded in the word ‘righteousness’ are two other words, both pertaining to the character of God. They are ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’. Both of the massive demonstrations we have seen speak of this righteousness. The one in the context of our planet and the lives of future generations, the other in the context of resistance, resistance to a dangerous fragmenting of the  unity of purpose that exists between 27 European nations and that has sustained peace between this country and its neighbours for over 70 years. Relatively few people alive in Britain today have known war, so this particular protest is also a resistance to the price we might yet pay for wilfully ignoring history. The price would be huge and long term.

The purpose of prophecy then, lies in remembering and in reminding those who are prepared to learn, of the need for ‘knowledge’, knowledge being a kind of divinely graced common sense. Common sense is common, not because it is obvious, but because it serves the good of the greatest number of people, rather than of the powerful few. So the first thing that is required of any political leader is a healthy dose of this ‘common’ sense. The two demonstrations that have taken place in London over the past two weeks have been an expression of, and a demand for, common sense, properly understood, to be deployed by those in government or who have the means or the power to change the way we use the God given resources of this planet. So the two events are of a piece. They are also continuous and open ended.

By this I mean that for as long as anyone engages with the urgency of the Extinction Rebellion, and with those who value peace and prosperity in Europe, the marches will continue. They will continue to take place in streets and cities but, more significantly for those of you reading this post, they will continue through the hearts and minds of every individual who consciously abandons complacency, cynicism and despair in regard to both these areas of human survival and wellbeing.

They will also continue from within the life of God, which is neither limited nor finite. Every heart that is concerned with the common good, seeks the knowledge that ultimately comes from God. The bible calls this Wisdom. It is an attribute of God’s own nature, but it is also ‘common’ sense. It is God acting from within the human person, prompting the freedom given to us to exercise our free will in righteousness, justice and compassion. These three stand in direct opposition to the three prevailing evils of our time, the evils of complacency, cynicism and despair. Complacency and cynicism stifle hope and blunt creativity. Despair is about lifelessness and death.

The demonstrations that we have seen stand against this triple evil. They suggest that what appears to be our end, can become our beginning. T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem Little Gidding, that ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ The solemn coming together of peoples who are confronting human folly and greed for the sake of our common survival is part of a new creation, a new thing being created out of the ashes of complacency, cynicism and ultimate despair.

These great demonstrations of a people’s will to the common good are also a ‘knowing’, a knowing which pertains to each one of us, if we are willing to own it. So we are each called from wherever we are at this moment, with whatever we have to offer, to engage with this new beginning for the common good, to ‘know’ it for the first time from deep within ourselves and take responsibility for it, as a matter of utmost urgency.

Mouse Habits

‘When we click through the news on our screens we experience it in the immediacy of the present moment. We also experience it in our loneliness. The loneliness of such moments feeds the fear we carry around in ourselves, the fear that comes with a sense of our disconnectedness from some indefinable life-source.’ Excerpt from my latest book In Such Times: Reflections On Living With Fear

‘Mouse’ is not a bad name for the gizmo which connects us to our computer screens. It is a symbol of the hunted, but also of the one who hunts, or searches, indiscriminately picking up whatever life sustaining morsels lie to hand. As ‘hunters’ we are in control, believing that the world lies open to us, that there is an abundance of choice out there. As ‘hunted’ we are the victims of the fears and uncertainties which this spurious freedom appears to give us.

I think of my own screen habits which have deteriorated of late, both in the amount of time I spend ostensibly reading things, when I am in fact simply grazing. I remember, rather wistfully, my pre-social media days.

As one of many millions who spend a fair bit of time online, I’ve thought about screen habits quite a bit of late, first in regard to how, if at all, they affect the way I think about what is going on in the world, and what I choose to watch, and why I watch those things. Most of the time it’s the news. I feel helpless in the face of the destruction of the planet and the evasive tactics of the powerful who benefit from that destruction. I am horribly fascinated by the antics being played out in parliament, though I am growing bored with those of Donald Trump and with much of the competing rhetoric surrounding the Brexit issue. Recently, I’ve been drawn to things that somehow ring positive – stories of heroic beach rescues, or of the devotion of animals which defies understanding but brings hope.

As I live in the country, I’m fairly well acquainted with the hunting habits of mice. You can be pretty certain that for every one mouse you see scurrying across the kitchen floor – even a reasonably clean kitchen floor – there will be at least ten more lurking behind the pipes or nesting in the cavity insulation. They work in teams but seem to hunt alone, a little like the computer mouse. We hunt alone, but there are millions of us gravitating to the same things.

This being said, I don’t think the solitary hunter mouse experiences existential loneliness. The idea hasn’t even crossed her mind. The solitary rodent is not in denial about anything in particular. She has enough to do, just obeying her nest-making and other survival instincts.

This is where we, when we are in ‘hunter mouse’ mode, differ from those little grey rodents. Much of the time we spend on computers is spent in a form of denial. We hunt to get away from our loneliness. We are in denial about the isolationism which our freedom to access information as events unroll has brought us. We are also in denial of the loneliness we experience in it. Though anxious about the way the world is going, our anxiety seems to return us to ourselves most of the time.

What we are really looking for, then, is something that will lead us out of ourselves and into a place of commonality, a feeling and desire for the common good. Deep down, I think many of us are watching out for something resembling sacrificial love, especially in the sphere of politics and leadership.

Watching the news, or surfing it, gives you a sense of the kind of battle being waged between the forces of good which are to do with sacrificial love, and the arrogance and self interest which ultimately leads to loneliness and isolationism.

Watching the news becomes a matter of surfing for the opinion which best chimes with your own, even when your own is shaped from ‘gut’ feeling rather than a balanced seeking out of the truth (a now completely devalued word) and of what best serves a nation. When glimmers of love emerge in the political arena, as they do from time to time, defying the arrogance and contempt of some for those they are there to serve, we recognise them for what they are with a kind of deep sense of joy – but not the triumphalist joy that comes with ‘winning’ or having the last word.

If the whole Brexit debacle has served any purpose at all, it will at least have revealed that it is possible for politicians to act with integrity in the matter of sacrificial love. In other words, to put their consciences and the needs of the country ahead of their careers. The same holds true in all public spheres, including that of the Church, where integrity and sacrificial love is required from time to time from leaders. Much of the time, the personal sacrifices that they make go unnoticed, or unremembered.

But they are remembered at a different level. In the case of Brexit, their story will no doubt define history, so they will be remembered by future generations. But hope does not begin and end at its source, with the person or people who are courageous and competent enough to put sacrificial love at the service of the country. It gives hope to the millions of us ‘hunting’ desperately for politicians we can trust and for a future we can believe in.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

 

Three years into the business of being Air b&b hosts, it’s tempting to think of ourselves as experts, even professionals. Indeed, where we live, hospitality is regarded as an industry, albeit a fairly minor one, so thinking of it as a business is not unreasonable, I suppose.

Occasionally, we get guests who tell us we should charge more. I take this as a compliment. But I also take care to explain to them that were we to start charging fancy prices, we would get a different kind of guest, people who would just treat the place as a hotel. We justify what we charge, which is not cheap, but not as expensive as it perhaps could be, because we are not running a hotel but inviting people to share something of the peace and beauty of where we live.

The peace and beauty that we are surrounded with is free – which makes it all the more beautiful. There is a delicacy about everything and we want people to appreciate that, without feeling a sense of entitlement by virtue of having paid more than we need to make the whole enterprise viable. So I think we get a certain kind of guest. We get people who value the place – and we make a great many new friends.

Our guests are usually filled with wonder when they arrive here and we, as we get to know them from a respectful distance, learn to be surprised by the innate goodness of people. We have seldom had guests where some kind of transformative revelation does not take place – for us, as well as for them.

Last week an Israeli family came to stay. Since we’re pro-Palestinian we were a little apprehensive about this visit. We decided to avoid any talk of politics and simply get on with the job of being good hosts. They were charming guests. All the same, we viewed them with a degree of suspicion, avoiding the big topic. But such things are not so easily avoided and, as they were leaving, one of them remarked on how peaceful it is here “not like our country”, he said.

I have little memory of what was actually said after that, but I do remember the moment when it became clear that these people were deeply troubled by the way the Palestinian people are being treated. I mentioned Beit Hanina, a village I had known when it was still Palestinian. He said “Yes, I served as a soldier there”.

“What did it feel like?” I asked, in genuine amazement

“It was horrible. I hated it” he replied.

I think that it was at that moment that we all four hugged one another, only just managing to hold back the tears. We talked a little about the peace initiatives he and his wife are involved with in Israel. But it wasn’t that which caused the walls of distrust and preconceptions, on my part, to come down. I don’t think our Israeli guests felt anything like that in regard to us.

This was a moment of profound understanding. It revealed us to ourselves and to one another as the children of a loving God. We even spoke a common language, theologically, although we didn’t get into that in any detail, only to agree that what is being done to the Palestinians by the secular state of Israel runs counter to Jewish scriptures. We were able to agree about this from a place of reverence, from an implicit sense that what is being done to the Palestinians constitutes a violation of the holy, a kind of sacrilege, that it is an offence to God. We were able to weep together about this.

Jesus once said that those who mourn are in fact blessed. I think this is the first time that I have really understood what these words mean. They have to do with a renewed encounter with the enemy, the person we distrust or hate, because of their politics or nationality, an encounter which takes place from within our shared humanity. These encounters happen from time to time in conflict situations, as they did between soldiers on the Christmas Day Armistice during the First World War. They have a profoundly sacramental significance. They hallow what is otherwise ‘unhallowed’, what is unholy in the eyes of a loving God. They are our only hope for survival.

 

The Leaders We Deserve

 

‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’ (Henry IV part 2), or at least it should. Aspiring leaders of political parties, and of government itself, lack the unease that would give them the kind of authority which comes with what I would describe as a kind of noble humility. The UK’s broken politics, partly the result of an electoral system which is no longer fit for purpose, is in some measure to blame for this sense of lack, when it comes to genuine authority in political leaders. You vote for a party, but you have very little choice when it comes to who will be the best leader of the nation even if you belong to the party you voted for (the same is true in the US, albeit for different reasons) especially in a time of crisis, such as we are facing at the moment. But the leadership and authority vacuum we are experiencing is also one of our own making. We get the politicians we deserve – ‘full of passionate intensity, or ‘lacking in all conviction’. (W.B. Yeats ‘The Second Coming’)

Something comparable is going on at the beginning of the book of Isaiah. Things are ‘falling apart’ for lack of visionary leadership, because people have either abrogated their political responsibilities (they no longer either think or care about what will become of their future) or they are happy to go along with the charismatic personality of the moment, trusting that all must work out well in the end somehow or other. Then, as now, there was a need for someone of vision and authority who would deliver the nation from the consequences of its infatuation with charismatic leaders and who would speak the language of hope.

But the prophet who volunteers for this job feels far from qualified to do it. It would seem that he has been compromised in either his personal or his public life in the past. He is, by his own admission, a man of ‘unclean lips’ (Is. 6:4). All the same, he is told that he will be speaking to a people who have inured themselves to obvious good sense and that they are beyond the point of recall, beyond hope. God, it seems, is partly responsible for this. He allows the situation to be as it is and in doing so obliges the people to come to terms with the fact that it is they who must change, or they will get the leaders they deserve. Being dulled to the things which make for life; life in community, life in relationships, life in God, they are set to be dominated by individuals whose primary agenda is self-gratification, specifically the gratification afforded by power.

Those who only want power generally have little of substance to offer the people over whom they will exercise it. They will fudge or avoid interviews, or simply manipulate the conversation in order to avoid issues that are life determining for the nation, because they do not know what to say or do and because they believe (often rightly) that their own luminous personality will persuade everyone that problems are easily solvable, or do not exist at all.

I also sense in Isaiah a deliberate omission. There is not much talk of visionary leadership in the immediate future, although it will come in the fullness of time. Perhaps the writer of the book wants the people to begin to wonder if they are missing something, and, if so, to ask themselves what they could do to take control of their politics in a way which demands hope, rather than vague optimism from their leaders.

They may even identify an individual who shows great promise but who is not of the political party of their preference. They feel guilty and uncomfortable about supporting such a person, so they need others to whom they have delegated power, and with it responsibility, to take the first step and do what is necessary, even if it means betraying party loyalties. The person in question may need to do the same. They will also need to do a bit of self-examination with a view to being willing to take responsibility for their own past political decision making, not all of which they may be proud of today. They may want to change their mind about policies they have supported, knowing that they must do this publicly, or they will not win the people’s respect or inspire hope for the future. Changing one’s mind about actions taken in the past is really a change of heart, or what people of faith would call repentance.

When we repent of our actions, or of those words or actions which have betrayed our responsibility for those who have mandated us with power, we are bound to come in for criticism and even for abuse. This is where we start to see the difference between power and authority when it comes to leadership. The supreme example of this kind of self-abnegating leadership is set by Jesus who allows himself to be treated as one in need of repentance, so that those who are called to lead with authority in secular politics need not be ashamed to do this themselves. A person who only wants power will seldom repent.

A person of authority will be continually vigilant about how their words and actions will directly impact on the lives of those they are mandated to serve, service being the last and perhaps most important mark of true leadership. A leader who serves takes the trouble to listen and to be at one with his or her people. We get these servant leaders emerging from time to time in all sorts of contexts. Sadly, we have just lost one in Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Communities. It is urgent that we find another in the forum of UK politics. I believe that if we take our political responsibilities seriously, even to the point of breaking down the barriers of party and personal interest, we will see one emerging in Rory Stewart.

 

 

Pentecost. A Call To Resistance

 

With Pentecost comes the season of calling and gift, words that are often conflated with ministry. Like ministry, the word ‘gift’ can be deployed to elevate the most ordinary activity into something approaching the sublime. You can have a ‘ministry’ to song, or to routine admin, or even, as a friend of mine was once told by her mother in law, a ‘gift’ for stacking – stacking plates, apparently. It is also the season for talking about God in a way which can sound controlling and manipulative of God, and sometimes of other people, as if God is there to be told what to do. From this, follows a distorted perception of calling. We talk about God ‘calling’ us to a particular ministry or course of action, one which can often coincide with our particular life plan or which conveniently melds with our own fantasies; in the case of the ordained ministry, the lure of status and of a degree of power over others.

Despite these vanities, the call to the ordained ministry is real. It is every bit as hard core as the ministry of Christ on which our own priestly ministry ought to be modeled. It is sacrificial, in an ordinary and everyday context. The best priests go largely unnoticed, except by those they serve with love. The ordained ministry is also a unique gift, not because it sets a person apart from others, but because it confers a responsibility on that person to embody the gift of God into the world, beginning with the people they are called to serve.

The priest or deacon is called to be in the world but not of it. Here, ‘the world’ can be understood to also mean the system or organisation. When the church behaves like an organisation, and systematises calling, those who are called to serve it as priests and deacons must embody a resistance to the system itself. Resistance to the system is part of their calling to be as Christ to the world, in the way he saw and loved the world and its people. It follows that the specific ministry to which they are called is likely to be felt way beyond the confines of the institutional Church.

Smaller worshiping communities, who may already feel somewhat out on a limb in regard to the wider Church, can feel slightly abandoned when a talented person ‘graduates’ to the ordained ministry, unless, of course, that person returns to serve them after ordination. Parishes need their returning ordinands (OLM’s), not only to prevent further numerical diminishment, but because these new clergy will bring energy and love, two attributes of the Holy Spirit, to a community that already knows and loves them for who they are. If they are returning to a liturgically orientated worshiping context they will be at an advantage, having something of the enlivening Spirit that has shaped prayer over the centuries and that will continue to give substance and depth to their calling.

Traditional worship, drawing on the enduring faith of centuries, shapes a person’s life in God, and in the context of eternity. This suggests that the future of the Church lies in a greater sense of the eternal, of the ongoing nature of the worship that has been handed down to it and that becomes part of a local church’s collective subconscious. This in turn suggests that the Church needs to select those candidates for ordination who visibly demonstrate a life that is lived from within God. Such a life will be vulnerable to the pain of others and to the rejection that they will experience from those who view them as a threat to the status quo, because their detachment from power makes them all the more powerful.  They will become truly inspirational leaders, as opposed to individuals with a given set of skills that can be honed in such a way as to lead to their own preferment within the existing hierarchy, or even to surviving in one that has professionalised the role of the parish priest almost beyond recognition.

Such poor spiritual resourcing also leads to an increasingly introspective institutional mindset. To many people, the Church seems unclear about its meaning and purpose. It becomes lost in detail, or in issues that are only tangential to its life in God, so obscuring the face of God from the people it is called to serve. In the life of the institutional Church this suggests a need to review the way status and hierarchy appear to have become detached from the idea of genuine servanthood. Those who feel out of touch with the Church are often people who feel distanced from an over busy parish priest, from a bishop whom they seldom see, or from issues being debated that should, and perhaps have, been resolved long ago.

This is when the most justifiable cause can make the Church seem out of touch and irrelevant to the world, to people who are desperately seeking a sense of the sacred in a world governed by pragmatism and the need to achieve and be recognized. The battle for recognition of women in ordained ministry has been fought and largely won, in organizational terms at least. The battle for recognition of the full humanity of LGBTQ+ still has far to go. In the case of people with disabilities it has barely begun. In all of these areas urgent work remains to be done in re-building bridges and learning to re-establish trust between those who have been hurt by the past, and by the ongoing hurt being suffered by many in the present. It is a contemplative task which should define the institutional Church to the world and be at the heart of its calling.

 

Beyond Alabama

 

I could write about the Alabama abortion law, and the seductive power of perverted religion. But I won’t, or at least not to the exclusion of the bigger picture, because, not having had to face having an abortion, I do not feel I have a right to speak to the horror of being in that position. I have no right, except to demand something more than mercy from the religious Right in America, those who seem indifferent to the suffering being endured by the women concerned. It is as if a woman who is pregnant by her own father, or who has been raped, possibly by a partner, is roughly the equivalent of a football, something to be kicked around the religious political morality field, as she may well have been in life. The abortion issue is not about the difference between right and wrong, or even between life and death. It is ultimately about playing hard, and winning – in sexual politics.

The sexual power games being played out in Alabama and other conservative States, reflect those of the wider political spectrum. In their Machiavellian way, the players obscure the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark. Given the malignant power of America’s current President, who has been described as the most amoral in modern history, such a situation is, of its very nature, hopeless. It is hopeless because it is without a God who defines the paradigms of good and evil within which issues like abortion, to name only one, can be discussed, rather than played out. Such a God has a merciful face.

We see this face most clearly through the ambiguity and paradox of the Gospels and in so many of the half finished sayings of Jesus. Take the story of the woman caught in adultery (‘caught’ – really?) and the almost non-verbal exchange that takes place between the Christ and her accusers. He asks which of them is without sin, and then reveals the secrets of their own hearts to them by drawing patterns in the sand. Perhaps one or more of them was her rapist, or the bullying partner forcing himself on her because it was somehow ordained by God.

On the other hand, perhaps not. Perhaps they had simply lost sight of the purpose of the Law they were there to uphold, a Law designed to make it easier for people to know God. Perhaps, they, like so many politicians today, were simply lost in the dark corridors of power, which they had created for themselves. Because of the power issues that are really at stake, political battles of all descriptions are being waged in the dark, or what in French might be called le néant, the absence of anything, especially the absence of those elements which give life and lead to wisdom. These battles lead to a collective sense of hopelessness, the moral darkness which we are all inhabiting.

The knowledge of a merciful God is the embodiment of hope and should therefore be the ground on which laws are made, and to which they return all of us who are called to obey them. Only in allowing for the possibility of knowing and being known by this merciful God is it possible to entertain the idea of justice, in all human relations. The same is true in regard to the healing of which our materialist western societies are so desperately in need. It is our own need for healing which cries out to us from the earth which we have raped and rendered sterile for its many other creatures.

There is a connection to be made between the loveless Alabama ruling on abortion and the equally loveless abortion of life in all its forms in the natural world. The connection begins and ends with mercy.