Monday, 29 August 2011

The Extravagance of Love

A reflection on Luke 15:11-32 by "Brother Placid"

There was a certain man who had two sons. And the younger of these said to his father, Father, give me that portion of the estate which falls to me. So he divided his property between them. Not many days afterwards, the younger son put together all that he had, and went on his travels to a far country, where he wasted his fortune in riotous living. Then, when all was spent, a great famine arose in that country, and he found himself in want; whereupon he went and attached himself to a citizen of that country, who put him on his farm, to feed swine. He would have been glad to fill his belly with husks, such as the swine used to eat; but none was ready to give them to him. Then he came to himself, and said, How many hired servants there are in my father's house, who have more bread than they can eat, and here am I perishing with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you; I am not worthy, now, to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants. And he arose, and went on his way to his father. But, while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and took pity on him; running up, he threw his arms round his neck and kissed him. And when the son said, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am not worthy, now, to be called your son, the father gave orders to his servants, Bring out the best robe, and clothe him in it; put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. Then bring out the calf that has been fattened, and kill it; let us eat, and make merry; for my son here was dead, and has come to life again, was lost, and is found. And so they began their merry-making. The elder son, meanwhile, was away on the farm; and on his way home, as he drew near the house, he heard music and dancing; whereupon he called one of the servants and asked what all this meant. He told him, Your brother has come back, and your father has killed the fattened calf, glad to have him restored safe and sound. At this he fell into a rage, and would not go in. When his father came out and tried to win him over, he answered his father thus, Think how many years I have lived as your servant, never transgressing your commands, and you have never made me a present of a kid, to make merry with my friends; and now, when this son of yours has come home, one that has swallowed up his patrimony in the company of harlots, you have killed the fattened calf in his honour. He said to him, My son, you are always at my side, and everything thing that I have is already yours; but for this merrymaking and rejoicing there was good reason; your brother here was dead, and has come to life again; was lost, and is found.

It was during my stay in the infirmary, one evening after Vespers, that Brother Maurus came to me. He was wrapped in smiles and looking beatific so a demon starting whispering in my ear "don't ask! don't ask!". This demon always makes his appearance on such occasions, this time I gave him short shrift. Would that I could always do so.
'Why are you looking so cheerful dear brother?'
'I have solved the problem of the physician and the anointing'
This was not, as you might suppose, a reference to my own experiences in the infirmary, about which I will write another time if God and the Prior spare me. No, Maurus was referring to an earlier conversation which we had had. Since I was lying sick at that time we had naturally enough fallen into discussion about St Luke the only doctor (Col 4:14) to write two books of scripture. We praised him greatly as the Evangelist who shows most clearly that our Lord was a man of prayer (cf Lk 3:21, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28) the sure basis for good health. Then we went on to compare one Gospel with another. Finally we became puzzled as to why it might be that St Luke was the only Evangelist not to mention the anointing of our Saviour by St Mary of Bethany shortly before His Passion. The other three have fully described this for us (Mk 14:3-10, Matt 26:6-16, Jn 12:1-8) and that for excellent reasons. Firstly because the Son of God Himself had said Wherever this Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world what she has done will be told in remembrance of her (Mk 14:9). And secondly since it was because our Lord praised St Mary for spending more than a years wages for an ordinary man on a single anointing that Judas allowed the devil to enter into his heart (Mk 14:10)
'You know why St Luke omitted the story of the anointing?' I asked
'On the contrary I know now how it was that he told the stories, for they were two one for Mary and one for Judas, but in a mystical fashion'
'Well, Brother Maurus if the Holy Spirit has enlightened you on the subject then it is your Christian duty to enlighten me also'
'And so I shall' he said, making himself as comfortable as the infirmary permitted as one anticipating a long tale.

'In the beginning of his Gospel account the good physician acknowledges not only that he is not the first Evangelist but that he has read his predecessors (Lk 1:13). The Doctors and professors of Holy Church, indeed, tell us that he wrote his account with those of St Matthew and St Mark at his hand and as his guides. He, therefore knew that our Lords prophecy concerning St Mary had already been fulfilled and that the origins of the traitors treachery had been laid bare.It was precisely because he was a physician that St Luke did not rest content with a physical description of the symptoms, as it were, of events but he desired to show their spiritual causes. Simply repeating what had already been well said did not fulfil his purpose so what he did instead was to recount two other stories which none of the other Evangelists describe in order to account for the one story they all tell but which he does not. And these stories reveal mystically why St Mary and the traitor behaved the way that they did.

'In the first episode St Luke tells us (Lk 10:38-42) of the occasion when our Saviour and His followers visited the house of Mary and her sister Martha in Bethany. While Martha quite properly and commendably busied herself in in order to the the needs of her guests Mary, as you know, behaved in a far different manner. Enraptured she sat at her Masters feet and drank so deeply the sweet wine of His words that she was oblivious to all else. In this complete surrender of herself, all that she was, all that she had, to Him alone we see foreshadowed her later pouring out of her substance over Him in an extravagant spending of the rich sweetness she possessed which, like all things, originally proceeded from Him over Whom she poured it. It may be also that because she alone of His disciples was so attentive to His words and Being that it was she alone of His disciples who understood the need for His anointing against the hour of His death. Martha however, like Judas later, complained to the Lord about this scandalous behaviour of her sister. This shows that the path of contemplation is difficult to understand for those not called to it, saint and sinner alike. Mark closely what follows though. Jesus defends Mary before Martha as He later did before Judas but O how differently they respond. Martha, because she is humble and sincerely loves our Saviour accepts His words and learns from them. She becomes a great disciple in her own right and is the only women of the Jews in all the Gospels who is recorded as recognising Jesus to be the Messiah when she says "You are the Christ, the Son of God" (Jn 11:27). Judas, hard hearted and proud does not accept any teaching he does not like even should it proceed from the lips of the Master Himself. And what a short step it is from judging oneself to be wiser than the Christ of God to betraying Him even to death.'

'Excellent, excellent, Brother Maurus' I exclaimed greatly impressed by his words and the wisdom and beauty they contained, 'you clearly show that what was later present in events was already present in  type. What is the second episode you mentioned though?'

'Ah yes' he said looking more thoughtful, 'the second is a somewhat more hidden prophecy although clear enough once to grasp the correct key. It is contained in the parable you in particular know so well Brother Placid. The one concerning the younger son who spends his inheritance in debauchery before coming to his senses'
'I know it very well indeed. So well that I can assert safely that it has nothing to do with the anointing by St Mary of Bethany'
'Does it not? Hmm. Listen and I will certainly show under a figure or type our Lord outlined all that was going to be important about the event He was mystically prophesying. The father in the parable is Christ Himself, the elder son Judas and the younger one Mary'
'How could it be that a woman would figure under the appearance of a man? It is not to be thought of. You cannot be right'
'You think so? In a single passage in the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:25-33) the Apostle identifies Holy Church as both the Body of Christ and as His Bride. If it is suitable to consider Holy Church as both male and female since in their intimate union the two become one flesh then it is proper to consider such a great contemplative as St Mary to be one with the Lord and so both male and female hence her appearance in the parable as of a like nature to her father in that story, Christ Himself as I have already indicated'
'Well, if, if I say, I grant your argument Maurus what follows?'

'Judas is the elder since he was selected and appointed to his part before Mary was to hers and, of course man was created before woman. When it says "a far country" in Scripture what is meant is Egypt and that stands as a sign of sin and oppression far from the promised land of God. By saying that the younger one went to such a place we are to understand that Mary was for a long time sunk deeply into a life of sin and folly so placing her far away from the Lord. She was in such a state at a time when Judas by contrast was by the side of the Lord, carrying out His commands and proclaiming His Advent. We should not wonder at this life of Mary's, she was clearly a person of strong character and such persons, especially womenfolk, if they are not found foremost among the saints will certainly be found first among the doers of lascivious wickedness. After some time in this life the younger son found himself feeding swine. The Jews, you must recall, have a perfect horror of pigs regarding them as the most unclean of creatures. There is great meaning, therefore, to be found in this occupation of the one who was steeped in sin. You and I were both but boys when we entered the Religious life but we have often heard those vivid accounts of sin that are retold to us by those brethren who have fled here as refugees from evil later in life'
'Indeed we have. And I never hear them but that I thank the merciful God for moving my father Tertullus to place me in the care of that Blessed Abbott of holy memory so that I might escape such gross sin.'
'I, likewise, have much to be grateful for. One of the things that these escapees frequently report is that while they took gladly to the sins of the flesh in their youth they did not long persist in that gladness. The more sated they became with their unnatural sensual appetites the more they came to realise what ugly, dirty brutish things they were. Despite this realisation though they found themselves by long established habit compelled again and again to sate those appetites they now despised. They longed to break free from them but lacked the strength to do so. This is the meaning of the feeding of swine. Mary fed her own lusts and longed to do otherwise.
'Then, in telling this parable, the Lord says the younger son came to himself  and resolved to break free from his long service to the bellies of pigs. Sacred Scripture tells us that we, male and female, were created in the image and likeness of God (Ge 1:26,27). When we come to ourselves, that is to say, we really come to God. The younger son in the parable like Mary of Bethany in life was moved by the Holy Spirit to look within. What he saw there, his God and true Father, gave him the strength to leave swinishness behind and travel with all speed back to his earthly father. The distance from the far country to the Promised Land is a great one but this father, a figure for Christ Himself, shortens it by running to embrace the returning fallen one while he was yet a long way away. And not only to embrace but to kiss, to clothe, to feed with the best of foods and to rejoice with all His household of angels and saints.

'The Evangelists do not tell us that the anger of Judas was most directed at St Mary for her extravagance. No, his fury was most greatly stirred by the still greater extravagance of our Lords praise for her and His prophecy, which was actually a command, that this act of hers would be told in her honour throughout the whole world. Judas would have been enraged that no such command had been made to recount the tale of his faithful and hard working service while this whore fresh from her adulteries was to be praised for an action that did not involve her stepping outside her own front door.
'The behaviour of the elder son in the parable is a perfect foreshadowing of those deeds of the traitor that we now know so well. When he heard that his bother had been forgiven and that all the household was rejoicing about it he became furiously angry. He had returned from the fields after his days works and so we can infer that it was dark. His refusal to enter a house that was full of light and joy is a sign that he preferred the darkness of pride to the light of the presence of Christ. Does that not remind you Placid that St John tells us "and it was night" (Jn 13:30) as the betrayer went out to betray.

'As he had gone to meet his younger son so now the father came to meet his elder, but what a different meeting it was! The hard heart of the elder son was not softened. All that he had to do was to accept with joy that his brother had returned from the realm of sin and death into the kingdom of light and life. In the same way all that Judas had to do was to accept His Lord's words in regard to Mary, he did not have to understand them simply to accept them with the same docility that the other Apostles and Martha had done. In return he would have received a throne upon which he would have judged the twelve tribes of Israel You may think that I am myself being extravagant with this comparison. Consider though just this one thing which shows that in a mystical fashion these two stories were and are but one story. The elder son suffered no loss or harm at all because of his fathers love for the younger one. Likewise Judas was not in the slightest little bit harmed by Jesus heaping praise upon Mary. The two were prompted to anger not because the lost something but because they envied someone. Those who will not rejoice in the good experienced by others condemn themselves to a thousand torments within their heart for every single genuine joy that they experience.
'Dear Brother' I said 'you have clearly applied yourself with great intent to meditating upon this matter and then taking the trouble to explain it clearly to me. So much so, in fact, that you obviously failed to hear the bell for Compline that rang some minutes ago. Unless you wish to experience the punishment that our holy Prior reserves for the bad, the hard, the proud and the disobedient (Rule of Benedict 2) then you must be gone and that promptly'

By then, however, Brother Maurus had somehow disappeared leaving only the suggestion of a "Deo Gratias" in the night air behind him.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Master Grills

A reflection on John 21:1-14 by a Carthusian Novice

  Jesus appeared to his disciples again afterwards, at the sea of Tiberias, and this is how he appeared to them. Simon Peter was there, and with him were Thomas, who is also called Didymus, and Nathanael, from Cana of Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two more of his disciples. Simon Peter told them, I am going out fishing; and they went out and embarked on the boat, and all that night they caught nothing. But when morning came, there was Jesus standing on the shore; only the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Have you caught anything, friends, Jesus asked them, to season your bread with? And when they answered No, he said to them, Cast to the right of the boat, and you will have a catch. So they cast the net, and found before long they had no strength to haul it in, such a shoal of fish was in it. Whereupon the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, It is the Lord. And Simon Peter, hearing him say that it was the Lord, girded up the fisherman's coat, which was all he wore, and sprang into the sea. The other disciples followed in the boat (they were not far from land, only some hundred yards away), dragging their catch in the net behind them. So they went ashore, and found a charcoal fire made there, with fish and bread cooking on it. Bring some of the fish you have just caught, Jesus said to them: and Simon Peter, going on board, hauled in the net to land. It was loaded with great fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and with all that number the net had not broken. When Jesus said to them, Come and break your fast, none of the disciples ventured to ask him, Who are you? knowing well that it was the Lord. So Jesus came up and took bread, which he gave to them, and fish as well. Thus Jesus appeared to his disciples a third time after his rising from the dead.

Climbing over the hills the sun began to gentle the landscape teasing delicate tints and hues, hints of colour, out of the austere shadowland where they had been asleep. The see once more began to assume her living aspect as she responded ardently to the fingers of sunlight softly brushing across her undulating surface. With nothing but tiredness and aches to show for a long nights toil the Apostles would have sat in their dawn brightened boat reflecting wryly perhaps on the recent words their Master had spoken to them apart from me you can do nothing The beauty of watching day break across that Syrian Sea and their own beloved land perhaps provided some compensation for their strains strains and pains. It is of no moment just how often you have seen new day manifesting itself by land and sea. Each time seen it has a quality that entrances and enkindles hope in even the most cynical and world weary; amongst whose numbers the seven Apostles could never be counted. It may be that for a time they became wholly absorbed in watching the first dancing, sparkling encounters between cheerful sun and restless wave. If so they would have been oblivious to the man rising out of the shorelines shadows, leaving a small fire he had been tending and walking to where water and land were exchanging age old pleasantries.

Have you caught anything, friends?
 His voice effortlessly crossed the distance separating them. The same voice that had once been heard with ease by thousand upon thousands of eager pilgrims. Had the seven known who it was that spoke with them then they would have considered it a fulfilment of David's prophetic words The voice of the Lord is heard over the waters (Psalm 28/9:3).
"No" they chorused back to him.
Cast to the right of the boat, and you will have a catch
Others might have wondered who this stranger was to give them orders. Not the Apostles though, not even John the Theologian. Led by the indefatigable Peter they immediately went into action. In doing so they justified the words their Master had once uttered-
Believe me, unless you become like little children again, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3)
How like children as yet unspoiled by the world it was to leap full tilt into deeds without thought or murmur simply because a stranger has asked them to. Even after they had recently seen of betrayal, abandonment, torture and death the seven were still the happy possessors of a guilelessness, an essential belief in the goodness of men, leading them on to trust and accept them. What a dreadful and truly evil thing it is to abuse such trustfulness freely offered by the innocent and childlike. One who does so walks thereafter in the shadow of the gates of Hell unless they should repent seeking forgiveness, reconciliation and conversion.

And now the net which had remained dispiritingly empty all night was overwhelmingly, unmanageably full. To the swift apprehensions of love that could mean only one thing.  It is the Lord breather His beloved disciple. At that, pausing only to clothe his nakedness, Peter plunged into the sea. His burning longing to be by the side of his Master unable to contemplate the possibility of even a moments delay. In his account of the event John the Theologian has, in a few brief words, clearly sketched out the profound differences between the contemplative and the active ways of attaining the fullness of the presence of Jesus the Christ. The beloved disciple, however busy he might be with the practical things of the everyday world, is always in the inmost chamber of his heart deeply immersed in loving remembrance off and communion with his sweet, divine, Lord. So it is that he is always the the first to discern by inspired intuition the Masters presence whether in the flesh, as here by the Syrian Sea, or in the spirit. Having discerned Him what follows? He is content simply to gaze adoringly upon Him. In the simple exchange of loving glances between Master and beloved disciple all that needs to be said and done is said and done through silence and non-action. By contrast Peter is first and foremost the man of action, he gets things done. Sometimes perhaps it happens that he is so busied with doing things that he lets the 'why' of his actions fade in importance before the 'what' and the 'how'. His love for his Master, however, is so great that the merest whisper of the name of the Lord will bring about an instant change of direction and no obstacle on earth, or out of it, can keep him from plunging into the action of union and reunion.

Elsewhere in his Gospel account the Theologian, in a way which is striking in its psychological realism, never fails to to display this contrast between his own personality as the beloved disciple and that of St Peter. In his account of the Last Supper, for example, after Jesus predicts  Believe me, he said, believe me, one of you is to betray me (John 13:21) Peter impelled by his need to do something motions to the beloved disciple, who was reclining next to the Lord, to to find out who the traitor is. Since the Christ of God can deny nothing to one who loves Him so much he indicates that Judas is to be his betrayer. Yet the beloved disciple is so absorbed in contemplating his Divine Master that he neither notices nor communicates this datum. When the son of Simon Iscariot went out into the darkness only he, Jesus and Satan knew why. Similarly during the Passion of the Lord once more impelled by the need to do something Peter rushes into enemy territory alone and unarmed. Once his impetuous urge has passed he finds himself standing by a charcoal fire surrounded by many who would gladly compass his death. Under the dominion of fear, understandable and very human fear, he then denies his Master three times. The beloved disciples way is very different, together with the mother of Jesus he stands at the foot of the cross sharing the agony beyond words of both the crucified one and Mary. As a consequence it was he and not Peter who was entrusted to the care of the women who was flesh of his Masters flesh and blood of his blood. For the one who can contemplate unflinchingly the rewards are great.

And now, on this Galilee morning, Peter's relentless activism carried him wet and shivering to the side of of the Risen Lord. There is no doubt that Jesus would have been touched by his disciples devotion, perhaps even a little amused. I imagine he would have smilingly urged Peter out of his wet things, perhaps covering him with his own cloak. And then the Prince of Apostles would find himself beside another charcoal fire, made by his Masters hands, to drive away the memory of that other charcoal fire made by the hands that crucified that same Master but could not destroy Him. To the other six Apostles remained the task of bringing the boat and its heavy laden nets to shore. They perhaps were not amused to lose their leader and moving spirit at precisely the time when his energy and drive would have been most useful. Being simple, kindly folk though it is likely enough that the mere sight of their delighted Master with his delighted disciple would have given them so much pleasure that unlike more sophisticated types they may have forgotten to grumble. Upon coming ashore they would immediately have seen and, more evocatively and inspiringly, smelt the breakfast that their Master was preparing for them. The scent of hot bread and grilling fish as it wafted over them would have been a cause of real joy, for they were hungry. It is a fact both real and symbolic that Jesus did not require the fish that the Apostles had caught in order to feed them. The Master feeds His own; Himself Alone, He feeds them. The fish already on land and the fish about to be hauled in also symbolise those who were already disciples and those who would become disciples through the labours of the Apostles obeying the words of Jesus.

There are some people, usually very learned and clever people, who maintain that facts can be either symbolic or they can be real but they cannot be both. Since the Christian scriptures contain many such symbolic facts these clever people go through them closely to separate the real from the symbolic as one separates sheep from goats. Having done this they can produce lists of 'things that might have really happened' and 'things that were made up by the authors to make a point'. They do not do this to prove people like John the Theologian liars, dear me no. What they want to suggest is that there are two kinds of truth, real truth about real things and 'faith truth' which people of faith use to describe their faith encounters. These faith events don't occur in real time and space but only within the heads of believers who then re-present them as if they were real time events as being the only way to explain them in a convincing fashion. The first category is unalterable objective fact, the second category is subjective, the experiences described as events are different for different people. This means that the 'faith truths' which are recorded in the Gospels which do not accord with the 'faith experiences' of the clever, list making people can be safely ignored. And that, very neatly, does away with the need to be crucified. You need to know that these clever, scholarly people could not be more wrong. And here is a real fact that you can stake your life on: Jesus is the Son of God, crucified in the flesh, died in the flesh, risen again in the flesh. If you believe in Him and on His name even though you should die yet will you live. Indeed there is none other name under heaven given to women and men whereby we must be saved.

To complete that morning breakfast the Lord asked for some of the fresh caught fish to be brought to him. Strange to relate this netted haul of fish which seven together could not haul into the boat was now brought ashore by Peter alone and unaided. Now, the scriptures to refer to food and its important effects quite often. For example in the history of the wars of Saul and David we see of Jonathan that
reaching forward and dipping the end of his staff into a honeycomb, took a mouthful from his hand; whereupon his eyesight grew clearer at once (1 Samuel/1 Kings 14:27) And in Genesis it is recorded that Esau sold his inheritance to Jacob in exchange for a rather nice vegetarian casserole. (Gen 25:29-34). This turned out to be an important transaction since God later renamed Jacob as Israel and his descendants, the nation of Israel, still to this day claim that inheritance as their own. The young prophet Daniel and his teenage companions when in captivity in Babylon insisted on a purely vegetarian diet instead of the one provided by the King And- the ten days trial began; when it was over, never a one of the king's pensioners shewed healthy and well nourished as they (Daniel 1:15). The point, however, that the Theologian was drawing our attention to was not the revitalising effects of a bread and fish breakfast. Rather we should understand that Peter alone was able to accomplish what seven together could not because of the strength that comes from an encounter with the Risen Lord. Another of those facts which are both real and symbolic.

This episode recalls another much earlier one involving Simon before he was called Peter and some of the Apostles before they were called to be Apostles. They were all fishing (Luke 5:4-11) and on the advice of Jesus let down their nets at a particular place. They caught so many fish that their nets began to break. And here is yet another symbolic fact. The net represents the Old Covenant of the Jewish people and the Apostles prior to their calling by Jesus its adherents. The net broke and they were unable to cope with the catch because the old Law and righteousness by adherence to it were unable to meet the desire of God to save all the races and peoples of the world from the ruinous consequences of sin. Everything was transformed by the salvific death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The net described by John the Theologian represents this Good News about Jesus. In the hands of the Apostles, the men chosen by Christ as leaders and ministers of His Church it is now the a net which is strong enough to contain every nation and tribe and tongue and people (Rev 14:6).

The Evangelist is not known as John the Theologian for nothing. His Gospel account is carefully crafted and every word serves a purpose. It is no accident that he lets us know from the outset that this appearance was seen by seven witnesses. Perhaps he was anticipating the objections of those people who are to clever to accept that God intervenes directly into human history and can bring about events which are both real and symbolic. In any event for Jews of that epoch seven was a number with special significance. It indicated wholeness or completeness, seven was the perfect number for a body of witnesses whose testimony can put a case beyond doubt. We see this number appear in the very first part of the very first part of Scripture when God completes His work of creation on the seventh day (Gen 2:2). This led the Jews into having a seven day week with a mandatory rest day, we take the fact for granted nowadays but int the ancient world it was not so and the Jews were much mocked for their day of rest. When atoning for sin the priests of the Old Covenant sprinkled blood seven times before the Lord (Lev 4:6). Every seven years debts were forgiven (Dt 15:1) and slaves set free (Dt 15:12). When the Jews first entered the promised land the first city they captured, Jericho, fell into their hands after a seven day siege ended with them marching seven times around the city walls behind seven priests with seven trumpets (Jos 6). And the women of Bethlehem told Naomi that her foreign daughter in law Ruth was more wealth to her than seven sons (Ru4:15) meaning by that the perfect number of sons. Incidentally in ancient Israel where daughters were considered inferior to sons and foreigners very much inferior to Israelites it was an extraordinarily powerful compliment to Ruth to put her value above that of seven Israelite boys. To see how she earned this honour you should read the beautiful Book of Ruth which is only four chapters long.

John, therefore, cited this perfect number of witnesses so that his readers might believe his testimony and theirs. If we do so then we will surely come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and through believing we will have life in and through His name.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Not Burning Books

I heard a report about the riots in London last night. The journalist said that every single shop in a street had been broken into and looted; except Waterstones. This means that hundreds of young people were desperate to grab the things of the flesh as represented by clothes, shoes, jewellery, bits of technology, money, but were completely indifferent to the world of ideas and the imagination as represented by books. If we had a generation of teenagers that wanted to loot books and then cart them home to read then that would be a sign of hope. But we seem to have a generation or, to be more precise, a small group within a generation that is about taking and having and using and then throwing away. Children who do not have dreams about green fields and broad horizons but have urges for sports gear and blackberries are already lost, a lost generation and role models for another lost generation-in-waiting. What poverty of imagination and mind throws aside the opportunity to pick up free books in favour of breaking and burning and destroying things of metal and brick and extracting things of plastic and lycra? What goes on in those heads and in those hearts? Those who fail to long for beauty can only bring about ugliness.

Young people are responsible for their own actions but they are not responsible for the world in which they find themselves or the messages they have been given by those who are older and have had the power to create or to stifle imaginations. Whatever Fire Brigade methods are needed to deal with today's problems today we, as a society, have a responsibility to form the young people of that lost-generation-in-waiting. If we cannot stop them rioting in ten years time at least let us form in them the desire to steal books and not bling.