Monday, 19 October 2020

A Shifting Constitution

I wrote the following a few weeks ago, but did not post it.  The joint statement today by the Anglican Primates across the British Isles prompts me to do so.

1.  This summary will be superficial, but, as far as I can see, less superficial than most television interviews on the subject at the moment.

2.  For centuries, England (and Scotland, both together as one new United Kingdom from 1703) has had a colonising, exploitative and violent relationship with Ireland, a relationship which continued into and beyond Ireland’s incorporation into the United Kingdom in 1801.

3.  A line was drawn (literally) with a divorce settlement in 1921.  This gave independence to what became the Republic of Ireland, but retained the six north-eastern Irish counties (where a unionist and mainly Protestant majority was otherwise threatening insurrection) as part of the United Kingdom.

4.  At one deep emotional level some of the life of the island remained as if there was a single whole Irish nation.  The Irish Rugby team is still drawn from both the Republic and the United Kingdom.  There is a single Anglican Church for it all, including dioceses with some parishes in the Republic and some in the United Kingdom.  The constitution of the Republic came to claim jurisdiction over the whole island (in practice, an ambition to have eventual jurisdiction over it). 

5.  Whenever national boundaries and the emotional identification of a less powerful population within an area do not fully coincide, levels of discrimination inevitably occur, and some level of terrorist kick-back almost always seems to follow.

6.  So when the Northern Irish ‘troubles’ emerged in the late 1960s it was initially around civil rights which were being denied to many of the nationalist (Irish republican supporting and mostly often Catholic) population by many of the unionist (United Kingdom supporting and most often Protestant) population.

7.  The eventual ‘Good Friday Agreement’ settlement in the late 1990s did something unique and stunning.  It respected both those with nationalist and those with unionist convictions and identities.  The Republic took the extraordinary step of removed from its constitution its claim for jurisdiction over the six counties.  The United Kingdom took the equally extraordinary step of agreeing cross border institutions to be part of future decision making.

8.  One significant factor which made these steps conceivable was the accession of both the Republic and the United Kingdom to the European Economic Community (later the European Union) in 1973.  It came to be as easy to move people, capital and goods across the internal Irish border as across the Irish Sea.  Everything from food standards and human rights came to be identical in both the Republic and the United Kingdom.

9.  Those who warned that consideration should be given to how the United Kingdom leaving the European Union might disturb this balance were dismissed as being part of ‘Project Fear’, and were later promised that imaginative and innovative solutions could easily be found to preserve an open border even when regulations began to diverge on either side of it.

10.  It should have been and it is clear that there are really only three basic possibilities as this divergence begins to happen if one wants to prevent the undercutting of the economy on one side of the border by such things as goods being produced to lower standards or by paying workers less on the other side.

11.  One option would a hardening of the border, with things like customs checks and tariff payments.  This would be as practically challenging as seeking to create a secure economic boundary between, say, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire - a challenge spectacularly increased by the memory that Irish border posts had been magnets for terrorist activity in the past and so might easily become so again.  This option would begin to deny nationalists in the six counties their identification with and free movement into and out of the Republic.

12.  A second option would be a hardening of a new ‘border’ in the Irish Sea between the six counties and the rest of the United Kingdom.  This would be practically equally disruptive to everyday commerce (the example most sited being a supermarket lorry being checked for paperwork on every perishable item on board each time it took a ferry across).  This option would begin to deny unionists in the six counties their complete equality of economy with and their free movement into and out of the rest of the United Kingdom.

13.  A third option would be to secure a level of agreement to keep regulations either side of the border as closely in line as possible.  The great challenge here would be what mechanisms could plan and adjudicate such a thing.  This option would begin to limit the break in governance between the Eurpoean Union and a separate sovereign United Kingdom which was the prized goal of ‘Brexit’ in the first place.

14.  So this is what is sometimes called a ‘wicked problem’, one for which there is no easily available solution.  The present European Union and United Kingdom Governments have done what they felt was as good a deal, as good a compromise, as they could.  It is has elements of the second and third options (12 and 13 above).  The United Kingdom Government proclaimed this to be great, held a General Election to seek a mandate to agree it, and have agreed it.

15.  A Bill is now proposed to allow the United Kingdom Government to make whatever unilateral changes it sees fit to this deal.  Within the United Kingdom, the response of many has been astonishment that what last year was said to be a triumph is now said to be hasty and ill thought out. 

16.  But those in the United Kingdom noticing and discussing such things have mainly missed the emotional register of the response to this in the Republic.  The Bill has been published without any of the consultation or joint decision making envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.   

17.  The parallel is not exact – but imagine a partner who was abused through a long relationship, then through a short marriage, and subsequently since a divorce, but who had finally come to a new cooperative approach about how to deal with shared possessions and property, and that this has resulted in a legally binding agreement.  The partner learns one day out of the blue that the other partner had repudiated the agreement and claimed unilateral power to change any element of it at will without any external accountability.  It does really feel that bad.

16.  The Bill would allow the Government to make such changes without any parliamentary scrutiny.  And it includes provision that such changes would explicitly never be subject to any legal challenge.  It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the limited areas covered by the Bill, this is a bid for near dictatorial powers.  Sweeping powers do exist elsewhere for the Government use of Statutory Instruments (rather has Acts of Parliament) but there are parliamentary and legal safeguards in place to prevent these being used as quasi-dictatorial powers.

17.  Meanwhile, those in the United Kingdom feeling the impact on themselves may have been distracted by the fact that the particular Prime Minister of the day into whose hands the new powers would be entrusted had consistently lied about the European Union from the days he was a journalist (sacked for doing so) to the days he was making specific the claims in the most recent election campaign (highly rewarded for doing so).  He had also only recently been prevented by the highest court in the land from abuse of prerogative powers.  His Government has even more recently been rebuked by the Speaker of the House of Commons for taking Covid 19 actions without submitting to parliamentary scrutiny.  And so on.

18.  But actually it does not matter at all when creating quasi-dictatorial powers whether the Prime Minister of the day is a charlatan or someone with an acquired taste for non-accountable Government action or a saint.  That is hardly the issue as he or she will at some point be replaced.  The issue is about the creation of such unchallengeable powers at all.

19.  The Lord Chancellor ought to be the one who sees through this.  He gave an interview at the weekend [at the time of writing] which included an apparent admission that he would resign if any resulting breaking of international law went ‘too far’.  So we and Northern Ireland may be about to replace parliamentary and legal safeguards with the safety net of his individual judgement about when our abuse of process and neighbours has become extreme. 

20.  One wonders (as an aside) if he had dreamt when an aspiring politician that he was watching an interview in which a Minister of Justice attempted to reassure people that the abolition of parliamentary or legal scrutiny of an aspect of his Government’s programme did not matter because the watcher could depend on the Minister’s conscience kicking in at an unspecified level of illegality.   If so, he must have imagined that he would be the United Kingdom Minister about to step in and condemn that foreign tin-pot dictator’s Minister, rather than be that Minister himself.

21.  A different bill is making its way through Parliament at the moment.  It not only allows MI5 to behave illegally if it believes this to be in the best interests of the country, it allows the Police, Customs and Excise and others to do so too.  So, for example, the recent compensation awarded because an undercover police officer had infiltrated a group of environmental protesters and fathered a child on one of them would not be necessary in the future.  There is a pattern here.   

The peacock is on a new headstone on a grave in Haworth Cemetery, possibly the most gracious headstone there.

Monday, 21 September 2020

A wake of blooded feathers?

Yesterday morning at St Michael’s, Haworth, our first attempt at Covid-safe All Age Worship was a challenge.  Social distancing somehow trying to meet interactive worship.  Experimenting with the corporate worship just as degrees of local lock-down are about to be re-imposed.  Two dozen people did come.  Enough of them picked up the invitation to bring feathers, and two families were able to use them for a bit of banner making.  We had one household bubble putting glue on the banner from one side, opposite the other household bubble using gloved hands to fix the  feathers on.

Ahead of St Michael’s Day at the end of the month, we were touching on some of the Bible’s angel stories, including Jacob wrestling with an angel.  Jacob emerged with both a blessing and a limp, which is perhaps potentially a likely result of any genuine encounter with God.  I like the allusive nature of the resulting new hanging in church - the departing angel leaving scattered feathers in its wake.

“Empathy is costly.”  So said one of those I visited in the afternoon, reflecting on her emotional reaction to much of the news and the situation of people around us.  “If I didn’t feel so much for others, perhaps I wouldn’t be as anxious,” she was almost saying.  “Being humanly aware is never going to be emotionally easy,” might be another, possibly more positive, take. 

Sympathy is in part what is implied by its linguistic root: syn-pathos - alongside the pain of another.  By contrast, empathy (although actually an early twentieth century English translation of a nineteenth century German psychological term) implies being en-pathos, in the pain of another.  So, yes, empathy is always going to painful; not just alongside someone’s pain, but in it.

Which might give me another very partial tool for explaining the story of God-in-Christ.  God is fully human in Jesus of Nazareth, so it is not strange that God being alongside us like that should be ultimately costly.  “Divine empathy is necessarily a journey towards the cross”?  So those created in the image of God should simply expect to detect some resonance of all this within ourselves?

Finally, touching base with a colleague this morning, we reflected together on the normality (rather than ‘strangeness’) of these times.  Like all the others brought up in relatively prosperous homes in post-War Britain, we came to assume the absence of war, isolation from discrimination, a stable climate, the protection provided by antibiotics and vaccines, freely available health care, a consensus around the concept of human rights, reliable pension provision, and networks of protective insurance. We came to assume a naturally secure context. 

Which, of course, isn’t what most human beings knew through history or know around the world today.  What comes to us as ‘strange times’ alert us to what we should have always have recognised to be ‘normal times’.

I don’t know whether these three things hang together – emerging from the latest bit of struggle both fractured and blessed, feeling the cost of being attentive enough to others distress, finding the upheavals around us reveal what is normal for most people – chasing the scatter of almost blooded feathers (the colour wasn’t planned but came from the boa  donated at the service) behind the disappearing messenger from God.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

The nations tremble

From time to time (most recently for special services for Remembrance Sunday, Haworth 40s Weekend and the anniversary of VE Day) I have chosen to have sung I vow to thee my country or Jerusalem

Some regular church goers find including these hymns in worship deeply problematic  - and I’ve suggested before that most people recognise one of the chief lessons of the wars of the Twentieth Century to be how positively dangerous ‘love [of country] that asks no questions’ is. 

Others, seeking the church’s hospitality and support to remember those who have been killed in the ambiguities of war and opposition to tyranny, are puzzled at any church’s censorship of patriotic material which appears in at least some church hymn books.

So what I often do is introduce the hymns in their obvious religious context, spelt out clearly in the second verse of I vow to thee my country (where the vision of the kingdom of God is that ‘there is another country... and all her paths are peace’) and allusively in the second verse of Jerusalem (where Revelation’s vision of a new Jerusalem is echoed by ‘I will not rest... until we have built Jerusalem’).

But I’ve now re-visited for the first time in years the image of the page of William Blake’s handwritten preface to Milton on which Jerusalem appears.  I’d simply forgotten how the poem sits beneath an excoriation of the political and cultural leaders of his day (including, as it happens, the Eton/Westminster and Oxford educated Prime Ministers of the time) and their captivity to classical studies rather than biblical fidelity.  

Looking again, I see that the first verse is not actually, as I sometimes too gently suggest in my introduction to it, merely rhetorical.  There is no hiding from the fact that it is actually savagely and sarcastically satirical.  It is really saying something like “nobody could possibly be stupid enough to think that this country is built on Christian values - or that the basis of its commercial innovations and wealth has been anything other than diabolically exploitative”.

The second then has to mean “stoke my zeal and revolutionary commitment to overthrow all this”; Blake was himself even once put on trial for sedition.

And placing a quotation from Numbers at the bottom of the page (“If only all the Lords’ people were prophets”), something I think I did vaguely remember, cannot in context mean much short of “If only more people were woke”.

Which makes it an interesting choice for singing at the party concert concluding the annual season of radically accessible concerts in the Royal Albert Hall each year.

Which sort of brings me to Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, not habitually chosen for our special church services, nor even printed in any of our hymn books, but which both also claim a  religious position (less than biblical, Blake would notice) that it was Guardian angels who commissioned Britain to rule, that God intended and created the nation’s strength. 

Having significant and amplified voices suggest that it is scandalous that these words might not be sung at the party concert might, to say no more, give a hint as to why our present negotiations about our future trade relationships with our neighbouring countries are not going quite as swimmingly (as ‘oven readily’) as we had been encouraged to believe they might do.

Not, ironically, that many people would be listening.  I’m not sure people have really realised quite what a small proportion of the nation’s population now hear or watch (as, to be clear, I very often do myself) the Boat Race, the King’s Carol Service, the Last Night of the Proms or (with the notable exception of her most recent special broadcast) the Queen’s Speech.  Or, to be honest, adhere closely to the Church of England.  

The very act of still treating any of them quite as emblematically as they once were, and the periodic sometimes apparently manufactured controversies about the dire implications of alterations to any of them, must actually be the things which a modern Blake would have enjoyed ridiculing most - as he would undoubtedly would have trumpted a glorious welcome for fresh zeal in a nation noticing how differently history reads when it is the victims rather than classical heroes and their champions who are placed on our pedestals.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

More woven strands

Among the readings set for Sunday is that of Joseph being put down a (dry) well by his brothers.  They had intended to kill him, but one (Reuben) persuaded them on this course of action instead, although his hope of then rescuing Joseph was thwarted when he came back and found the well empty, his brothers having pulled Joseph out and sold him into slavery.

I’ve found pictures of Joseph being thrust into the well and of Reuben’s mournful discovery that he is missing in a Fifteenth Century Biblia Pauperum.  Strangely to modern eyes, they illustrate Jesus’ burial and the discovery of the empty tomb.  Reuben’s “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” is explicitly being seen as a prototype for Mary Magdalen’s “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him”.

It makes me notice that neither Joseph nor Jesus are merely found where they had been confined (or merely restored to their old lives), but each is ‘sent ahead’ (one into Egypt, one into Galilee) where new stories are to unfold.

But I also thought of Jeremiah being thrust into a cistern (again a dry one, but muddy enough at the bottom for him to sink into it), which is another of the stories which we are not invited to read at a main Sunday service.

Some of those with influence had been sufficiently unimpressed by his vehement contradictions of the  Government’s repeated insistence that it is coping well with a breaking crisis that they are willing to do away with the gainsayer.  

But a Cushite in royal service called Ebed-Melech (it seems he is a eunuch), confronts the King with the injustice being perpetrated in his name, so that Jeremiah is rescued. 

And it is Ebed-Melech who held my attention.  He might simply be an anonymous ‘servant of the King’ (which is what ‘ebed melech’ means), but he is rewarded by being spared the consequences of the disaster which does quickly befall the King, court and country, and is given great status in the Talmud. 

He struck me how relevant he is as a sort of potential ‘patron saint’ for everyone from whistle-blowers to Amnesty International.  

And (in weeks in which we are reminded how easily black people’s role in our histories are forgotten, marginalised or disguised), it seemed important to notice that a Cushite would come from the Upper Nile valley region; the hero of the story may have been an Ethiopian or (in our terms) Sudanese slave.

Which also creates a further connection in my mind between Hebrew Scripture and early Christian scripture as an Ethiopian eunuch form a royal court makes an intriguing appearance in the Acts of the Apostles.

Monday, 13 July 2020

One strand of story for our time


There is a story, not widely retold, which seems almost familiar in a world in which an absolute monarch can make potentially disruptive members of the royal family disappear, in which dictators can achieve extra judicial executions abroad, in which the commercially powerful can normalise their own sexual exploitation of others, in which mafias can prolong blood feuds. 

A strong aggrieved minority group saw an opportunity to lynch the family of a defeated ruler who they said had once sought their genocide.  The new tyrant was happy to collude; he might have been keen both to win their public favour and to be able to eliminate potential rivals in the process.  Seven men were strung up.  Two were sons of the defeated ruler by one of his sex slaves; her potential use by others had been bid for as soon as he had fallen from power.  Five were grandsons of the defeated ruler, whose mother the new tyrant had once been promised as a wife but who had then married another man becoming the mother of the sons the new tyrant was now able to have slain.

The seven bodies were left exposed, destined to be slowly devoured as a spectacle.  But one of their endlessly exploited mothers set camp at the foot of the gallows and day after day drove off the wild animals which approached.  So the new ruler felt obliged to do one dignified thing.  He gathered the human remains, and also the remains of both the defeated ruler and his much loved son, and arranged their proper burial.

And the re-telling of this story centuries on was recast as one of non-violent resistance of the exploited and abused - risky dignity in the face of oppression, shaming the tyrant into treating the oppressed as human just this once .

Only a possible hint in the story, that human sacrifice might ensure a good harvest, seems strange to us – the new tyrant’s desperation at a prolonged famine had led him to consult with the potential victims of his predecessor’s supposed attempted genocide.  It was also actually a threshing floor which he would soon buy as a place on which to build an altar, the site for a future sacred shrine for his own regime, bringing a plague to an end by doing so.

The story is in 2 Samuel 21.  One of the options for an Old Testament reading at a principal Sunday service this time next year is to read over seven weeks some episodes of the regime of this new tyrant (King David) in 2 Samuel, but this story is never included (nor, more strangely, that of the first foundation on the site of the Jerusalem Temple).  It is also another of the passages skipped over altogether in the pattern of daily readings for Morning and Evening Prayer as well (although 2 Samuel 24’s account of David buying the threshing floor is read at one service each year).  So there is no particular reason why even the most diligent daily church attender should be aware of it. 

This is despite the way there have been periods when the story has been better known by Christians.  Their interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures was sometimes focused on any hint they could find of a story which paralleled that of Jesus.  So they noticed ‘we have no right to put anyone to death’ (2 Samuel 21.4 and John 18.31) and ‘he handed them over’ (2 Samuel 21.9 and John 19.16) and saw this as a deliberate foretaste of Jesus’ execution, also on a hill.  It is striking to me that the nineteenth century French engraving by Gustav Dore, which I found on WikiCommons to illustrate this post, shows the lynching to be by crucifixion, somehow reflecting Mary at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

A different picture of Rizpah driving off birds of prey popped up in a biblical art social media stream the other day, so she is certainly not totally over looked today.  It was what made me remember what was actually Allan Boesak (the South African Reformed Church minister, liberation theologian and anti-apartheid campaigner) reflecting on the story in a ‘Biblical Texts in Context of Occupation’ collection.  

So, once again, I see Rizpah is each mother, wife or daughter of the disappeared or assassinated or casually state-murdered standing out for the dignity of their sons’ lives which mattered and matter, taking what is sometimes the great risk of shaming the overwhelmingly powerful.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Re-reading



I find I have fragments jotted down any of which might have developed into a post on this blog.

Re-reading Judges 3

My periodic noticing of which passages of scripture get jumped over even in the otherwise apparent continuous reading through the Bible day by day at Matins and Evensong brought me (between celebrations of Joshua and Caleb and those of Deborah and Gideon) to wonder why the story of Ehud is one we do not read and which I hardly know– Judges 3 has him deceive the excessively fat King of Moab into a private conversation, his single left-handed plunging of a hidden weapon so deep that the King’s flesh closed in over it, and his calm locking of the chamber leaving the Moabite royal servants unaware of the assassination until Ehud was safely away and it dawned on the servants that the King couldn’t have been on the loo so long and so the door hadn’t been locked for his privacy.  I’m glad not to have to try to preach about it, although the advantage of being left-handed is an intriguing feature of the story.

Re-reading our historical context

It was suggested that 1871-1990 (the period between German unification and German reunification) might be viewed as a single western European ‘Hundred Year War’; the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 marking a shift from conflicts in which the place of what had been Napoleonic France had been the key dynamic to conflicts in which the emerging strong single German state was. 

One could step back and suggest also that the new century-long focus on the dynamic of having a strong single German state might have temporarily masked the importance of the dynamic of having a single strong Russian state – the one Hundred Year War in fact being bracketed by Russian loss of its Crimea ports (1856) and its annexation of the Crimea (2014), with what was in effect a Russian truce-line across western Europe between 1945 and 1990 holding the tension for one quarter of this time, and with what is emerging as the Russian undermining of the new Franco-German partnership (as we might understand the EU) as only the latest stage.

Re-reading our historical process

The whole point of history is that it is re-written.  The craft of the historian is precisely to re-assess, re-evaluate, re-search and then, yes, re-write.  In fact media reports of any historical discovery almost always tediously return to the cliché that ‘history is having to be rewritten’.  This is so basic, how could anyone think this is not the case?  Or think things like the history of African-European relations has been that the Africa has treated Europe as a free cashpoint rather than the other way around? 

Re-reading Luke 6

Which leaves a tiny piece of theological speculation which I have shared with some different clergy groups.  Perhaps the concept of ‘white privilege’ pulls into focus Luke’s quite different take on the Beatitudes (Luke 6.24-26 is not jumped over in our daily reading of scripture, but it is certainly read much less often than Matthew  5.1-11 in public worship): woe to you if  you are rich, well-fed, happily un-bereaved and spoken about highly; if I live in a context in which I can assume my good fortune to be the norm or even the result of my own qualities, I’m likely to fail to see what a dangerously self deluded place it is and what vulnerably different experiences imprison others.     

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Warm blossom time



For in the Romans there is an arrogance which no submission or good behaviour can escape.  Pillagers of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indisciminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea.  A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power.  They are the only people on earth to whose covertness both riches and poverty are equally tempting.  To robbery, butchery and rape, they give the lying name of ‘government’; they create a desolation and call it peace.

I’ve been returning to a famous quotation in Tacitus’ life of his father-in-law Agricola.  We can make obvious inferences about Roman power from the little which is known about Pilate as Governor of Judea at the time of Christ, but it is all spelt out in the detailed account of Agricola as Governor of Britain forty years later.  And Tacitus imagines (rather than reports, I assume) how a particular British leader would have excoriated his conquerors and what was just being coined as Pax Romana.

Three things strike me re-reading this quotation in the time of Black Lives Matter.

The first is that a campaigner today chanting ‘No Justice, No Peace’ is saying roughly the same as ‘they create a desolation and call it peace’: it is not peace if there is no justice; it is not peace if all opposition has simply been crushed or swept aside.  Tactitus gives us the earliest account of what a native inhabitant of these islands would have thought, so the whole history of reflection in Britain is bookended by cries that the absence of conflict is not in itself real peace.

The second is that, quite unexpectedly now I notice it, Tacitus, a member of the Roman elite, exhibits a remarkable level of empathy and self awareness in giving this account.  Put in our terms, his privilege has not blinded him to the way that privilege crushes those who do not share it.

The third is how almost integral self-interest is to having absolute power (to being ‘top nation’).  One could almost plot onto this quotation things like our own past subjugation of Ireland, slave trading, and making war to enforce drug use on China; our exploitations which we lying told ourselves was good government.  One could almost plot onto it our immediate future’s helplessness to preserve any control of security of the internet, to retain our established levels of environmental and animal welfare, and to prioritise adapting to forestall the climate emergency; our capitulation to the desolating conditions on which we will be allowed to trade peacefully with those now powerful in our place.

I wove the first two of these three striking things into a sermon on Sunday, adding there a third which was the positive possibilities of what looks almost like the first experiment in what being sent out by Jesus should mean (Matthew 10.5-14): don’t rely on having resources to deploy; name and intend peace at every stage; announce God’s alternative way and approach as being within reach; act it out in reconciliation, in bringing new life, in casting out the destructive; don’t be downhearted by the failure of this robust just peace to take root, but dust yourselves down and try planting it again nearby.   

I’ll have to wonder why I sketched out a different third point for this blog post.  It may simply be that I’ve been trying to juggle with some over simplified historical perspective.  

Just as the Hundred Years War of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries was not a continuous conflict but rather a regular flaring up of a single theatre of conflict over more than a century, I wonder whether history will see the conflicts roughly beginning with German unification (1871) and ending with German reunification (1990) as a single ‘Hundred Year’s War’.  

Did Britain, whose Empire had been at its zenith in 1870s, find itself in the 1970s, in the last stages of that war, settle down to a new normal with both the disposal of the final remnants of that Empire and with taking a new part in the close economic and political alliance created by the main protagonists of that single continental conflict in which it had been caught up for those hundred years?  

And, does it now find itself a generation or more later, stepping out (without either Empire or close continental alliance) almost innocent of what being subject to the powerful self-interested misrepresenters of what political peace and freedom will mean?

Meanwhile, the picture is of newly discovered fireblight in our small orchard of fruit trees, widespread and incurable, so the trees will probably need to be taken out, and with much care.  Apparently fireblight doesn’t usually taken hold this far north because it requires sustained warm weather at blossom time, so our wonderful May was not quite the blessing it seemed.