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Jul 13

Day 10: Bradford-on-Avon to Corsham

We walk through Bradford on Avon which surely has to be in of the loveliest small towns in the UK: all compact and clearly with an ancient and rich history from the wool trade. And from what we saw not as plagued by tourists as other Cotswold towns. We bought an ice cream from a shop that mainly sells bicycles!! – and why not? And then after lunch the views began to change from flat wide fields and big skies to smaller fields. These were bracketed by woods and then the paths grew crazy as if rammed together by giant hands. Then we faced switchback paths whirling us up and down – exhausting walking in the heat. Moses had a great time plunging for sticks in the occasional pools in the river along the way.

Behind the Masks

I wonder if Donald Trump is really the tough guy that he seems? I wonder if he is happy with his Midas riches? What would his mother’s island family have thought of their grandson? Does he have any self awareness?

We aren’t always what we seem to be are we?

Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was a fraud: he pretended it was a democracy and that he governed under the rule of law but the reality as very different: it was like the rule of the Mafia but without the charm of Al Pacino.

Hart Felt Words

Lorenz Hart was one of the greatest lyricists if the last century until he died as a drunk in his early forties. Until then it was “Rogers and Hart” and after he died it became “Rogers and Hammerstein”.

Hart’s lyrics get under my skin. He was brilliant on the subject of deception: “Skimmed milk masquerades as cream”, is one l recall, and how about, “When love congeals, you can smell the aroma of performing seals, hear the clicking of high heels, I wish I was in love again”.

So, are we as we seem? What’s going here? Do we live in fear that our backstages may collapse onto the front stage?

 

Penitent Peter

Google the painting St Peter Penitent by Guercino, painted in 1639. Today it hangs in Edinburgh’s National Gallery. It shows Saint Peter, face stricken with remorse after he three times denied knowing Jesus.

It’s a truly great picture, demonstrating a great deal about human nature. Peter was an impulsive boaster and when it became clear that Jesus was to be arrested on charges of sedition and blasphemy, his protests of loyalty grew even louder: “Everyone may desert you master, but I never will. I would rather die than forsake you so I say to any one coming for you, you’ll have to go through me first.”

Lead Me Not into Temptation…

Peter meant what he said. He really thought he was steadfast and loyal, and that was the kind of man he wanted to be.

Of course, when officials came for Jesus in the middle of the night, his death sentence was already a certainty. Peter followed the group in the shadows, watching what was happening.

And then in the following hours, three times Peter was challenged as to whether he was a friend of Jesus, and three times he denied it, each denial louder than the last.

Luke tells us that after Peter’s third denial, Jesus turned to look at him and Peter wept bitterly. Anyone who has let down a friend, a family member or a colleague – and which of us has not done so at some time or other? – knows that feeling. Just thank God that our underhand behaviour will not be a talking point to millions 2,000 years from now!

Guercino’s painting makes me want to weep just looking at it. Peter did not know he was going to betray his friend until he was faced with a choice. But when the test came, he did exactly the opposite of what he had wanted to do. He wasn’t brave and loyal: he was fearful and weak. Past Lord Chancellor Quintin Hogg said that the only joke Jesus ever told was when he described Peter as his “rock!”

Peter probably saw – and hated – his own faults in others. But to be fair to him, the story relates how many years later he died bravely for his saviour.

Jesus knows how easy it is to go through life untested and therefore ignorant of our own true natures. He warns us not to condemn others for failing tests we have not yet faced ourselves. That’s what “lead me not into temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer is all about.

El Dorado

Fast-forward 2,000 years. Celebrities are carefully manicured productions, designed to weave dreams amongst fans living tedious lives. Sadly the reality of the stars’ lives is very different from what is projected on screen. Dreadful loneliness, fear of ageing and broken relationships can affect us all, including the rich and famous. The pictures we so admire are usually “cosmetically enhanced” so that lines, pimples and unwanted whiskers are airbrushed out. And if you think that stars are always happy, just take a look at the life of Liberace in Behind the Candelabra. The truth shocks.

Another example? When I was a youngster, I hugely admired the great screen hero John Wayne who played the archetypal western hero of my fantasies. He rode through my childhood telling us that “a man has to do what a man has to do”, and there was clear blue water between the good and the bad guys. Courage and decency always won. I only had to watch Wayne’s slouch and hear his gravelly voice telling the girl, “Honey, you’re safe with me!” to be entranced and comforted – for even then I knew that the real world was full of confusion, fear and doubts. Wayne always sorted it out. He made his own rules and lived free amongst the grey smoke of campfires. It was all so real, that we, huddled wide- eyed in the stalls, could almost smell the coffee. It was a world where Wayne was always the brave and decent winner.

But it was skimmed milk masquerading as cream. The realty is that John Wayne was born Marion Morrison. In mid-life, his films were best shot before noon because after that he was drunk, and often mean and nasty with it. By then he was bald and paunchy. He must have hated being bald because he wore a toupee. In his films, he always played the undaunted hero pitted against the bandit gangs and the cattle thieves; but in reality he managed to wriggle his way out of being drafted to fight in the Second World War. John Wayne walked and talked tall, just like a hero, but his heroics were an act. He may have known the reality: perhaps that’s why he drank.

Well, it’s fine to put the boot in on Saint Peter and John Wayne, but how perfect are we? What’s behind our masks? Are we phoneys too?

I think it’s best to remember that when somebody seems too good to be true, that’s probably the case. And recall Emerson’s line about boasting: “The more he talked of his honour, the faster we counted the spoons.”

 

1 comment

  1. Anthony Reynolds

    Dear Honourable Tom and Lady Jane,

    New insights every day! How do you do it ? Perhaps you should carry on to John O’Groats?

    Funny you should major on Peter today. This morning we read Acts 2. No reason, it just came to mind. Peter quoted 9 most appropriate Scriptures in those first 3 chapters. And he was so courageous – “this Jesus, whom YOU crucified” – what a thing to say, almost asking for a flogging, which he duly received. He changed from 7 weeks earlier, when he denied that he knew Jesus. Receiving the Holy Spirit is the only explanation.

    Regarding the Guercino painting, which is beautiful, it does portray Peter as an old man with a grey beard. One Bible note suggests he was born around 1 AD, so he was younger than Jesus when he denied him.

    As for Jesus building his church “on this rock” – the rock being Peter – I don’t read it this way, although the Catholics do. But Matthew is writing with a Jewish mind-set, with his five speeches of Jesus being a parallel to the five books of the Pentateuch. And the Ten Commandments were written on stone by the finger of God. And so it is the statement, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” that is the stone on which Jesus founded his church. I found that in Israel the Messianic Jews interpret it this way. I keep in my desk a white stone on which I have written “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

    I have found it a most penetrating question, “Who do you believe in your heart Jesus Christ really is?” I have received some very strange replies.

    Love and blessings, especially for Moses.

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