Greater love hath no man…

The title of this post refers to a very well known line from John’s Gospel:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

The surrounding lines provide a bit of context – it’s part of a statement made by Jesus, shortly before he goes in to the Garden of Gethsemane where he’ll be betrayed by Judas.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you.”

The call to selflessness has become culturally associated with the military services, and the phrase is often used with regard to people who have died in the heat of battle, sacrificing themselves for the benefit of others around them.

But I also associate this line with a fictional story.

I enjoy the James Cagney gangster movies from the 1930s, particularly the two he did with Humphrey Bogart; ‘The Roaring Twenties’ and ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’.  In the latter, Cagney plays a gangster, Rocky Sullivan, released from jail and owed money by Bogart’s character, Jim Frazier, who collaborated with Sullivan on a bank raid.  Sullivan took the rap, in return for the money to be paid to him after his release.  Sullivan also has a friend in the local Catholic pries, Jerry Connolly.  As boys, both Rocky and Jerry carried out a robbery together but only Rocky was caught, and sent to reform school, where it might be argued his criminal career began.  Jerry was a faster runner, and became a priest.

Jerry coaches a group of boys playing basketball, who rapidly become impressed with Rocky’s charm and bravado, and his courage and general approach to life. Jerry is concerned that this may lead the boys in to a life of crime.

To cut to the chase, Frazier double-crosses Rocky, and Rocky ends up in a gun fight in which he kills a policeman, which ultimately leads to Rocky being on death row, awaiting execution.

The boys are convinced that Rocky will die like he lived – a hero, going to the electric chair with swagger and bravado. Jerry goes to see Rocky and asks him to go to the chair ‘as a coward’, with the hope that the boys will lose all respect for him and not set out on a life of crime as they try to emulate their hero. Rocky refuses.

However, when he’s taken in to the execution chamber to be executed, he begs and weeps and fights against the guards. His courage and bravado are gone; he goes to his death in an undignified and cowardly manner, pleading for mercy. Jerry, who’s present in the role of Rocky’s priest, prays as the execution takes place.  The boys later read the headlines that Rocky died a coward, and ask Jerry whether it was true.  After a brief pause, he tells them that it was all true. The boys lose respect for Rocky; it’s hoped that they will steer away from crime.

Whether Rocky was acting the part of a coward, or whether he really did ‘break’ at the end isn’t revealed in the film. In later life, Cagney kept quiet about it as well. I saw this film first time around in my early teens, watching it one Sunday afternoon with my parents, and I couldn’t quite work out myself whether Rocky was acting or not.  I got the feeling that Jerry thought that Rocky had done the right thing, though – that moment of pause when the boys asked whether whether the newspaper story was true seems to suggest he was wondering whether to tell ‘the truth’ or the truth.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to think that Rocky DID do the good thing – he made whatever sacrifice he could at the end to help his friend. His life was already forfeit, so he gave up his character, his dignity, his courage; he gave up the rest of him, so to say.

As for Jerry, the older I’ve got the more I have to ask ‘Was it too great a thing to ask of Rocky? After all, but for your ability to run faster, you might have followed a similar life. You asked of him to give away the very thing that made Rocky, Rocky, in the eyes of the world. That was a great deal to ask. Was it too much to ask?’

I’ve not yet got an answer for that one.

Fiction allows us to explore complex morality at ‘low cost’ – this film has stayed with me for my whole adult life. I occasionally watch it when it’s on TV to see if I can gain some more insights; I know, it sounds daft trying to pick out morality from a film that’s almost 80 years old, but sometimes we need fiction to allow us to answer some of the big questions.


For a fuller description of the plot, take a look here.


Facebook makes you miserable…

I came across this item a few days ago – the hardly surprising revelation that lurking around on Facebook makes you miserable.  Although ‘lurking’ – looking at social media without interacting with anyone – is specifically mentioned, social media in general get’s a bit of a hammering.

This isn’t anything new, of course – I remember some years ago some studies being published that suggested that people got depressed when looking at the social media – particularly Facebook – feeds of their friends who always seemed to be telling us all about their wonderful lives featuring beautiful people in beautiful places doing exciting and fascinating things with and to each other.

Of course, most of these feeds were actually less than 100% accurate, with people cherry picking their lives to put up a good image, or even lying their pants off.  Whatever else, social media doesn’t seem to always induce truth-telling!

I’ve never been able to understand why people tell porkies on their social media feeds.  If you’re trying to impress people who know you more than a little, then surely those folks know when you’re stretching the truth.  And if you’re trying to impress people who don’t know you very well, why bother?

“Researchers warn of envy and a “deterioration of mood” from spending too long looking at other people’s social media stories, induced by “unrealistic social comparisons”.

The funny thing is that I KNOW all this, but even I fall prey to it.  If I’m feeling a bit down, a bit lost, a bit ‘Meh’ and I see someone on Facebook who appears to ‘have it all together’ I have to say that I get envious and I get that deterioration of mood. I know in my head that everyone has their own problems to deal with, and that a story or photo on Facebook is very much a snapshot of an instant in that person’s life, but it still sometimes gets to me.

I think I agree with the other findings of the researchers “Actively engaging in conversation and connecting with people on social media seems to be a much more positive experience,” It’s only when you start to engage with people that you do find out whether their lives are as ‘picture perfect’ as they appear to be or whether you just caught them on a very good day.  Or, who knows, whether they are lying narcissists after all.

There’s a couple of pictures of me out there where I appear to be (for me) in ‘party animal’ mode.  What folks don’t know (or many don’t know) is that those pictures were taken of me at a time in my life when I was under the hammer somewhat, and that ‘shit was going down’ in my life that I hadn’t seen fit to share on social media. I do wonder how many other pictures and posts we see from people who appear to be having a perfect life (compared to ours) are taken when things aren’t good at all?

There’s a book called ‘Survivors of Steel City’ about people in Sheffield, written by psychologist Geoff Beattie, and in it there’s a story of a guy who drove the top of the range cars, was seen in the top night-spots, dressed immaculately.  However, this was his ‘weekend persona’ – the rest of the time he live din a flat on a council estate, the car was hired, and the weekend club life was the total high-spot of his week.  I guess that that shows that there is nothing new under the sun – had social media been around back then we can only imagine his posts!

One solution to the angst produced by social media suggested by the researchers was to take a week off social media every now and agan.  I can say that this works; every now and again I take a time out and it resets my attitude and my online bull-shit detector.

In the meantime, can I interest you in some possibly faked up photos of me ski-ing down the Eiger accompanied by a multitude of bkini clad beautiful people?




And so in to 2017

My attitude towards New Year’s Eve this year was summed up rather well when I went to Asda this afternoon to buy ‘the boys’ – our 2 cats, Jarvis and Marvin – some cooked chicken. They like this as a treat, and whilst New Year’s Day lunch will feature roast beef, the boys just don’t like beef as much as chicken or turkey, so out to Asda I went.

I found myself in the checkout queue with a number of people carrying various bottles of champagne, sparkling white wine and Buck’s Fizz.  Me? Some chicken and a tub of Ovaltine.

New Year’s Eve has never been a big event at Pritchard Towers; typically it’s Jools Holland, drink the New Year in, then off to bed. This year it’s been reading, dozing, then suddenly noticing that it’s 2 minutes to midnight. Could we be bothered to drink the New Year in? Nope. But we did enjoy the thunderous roar of the fireworks around the neighbourhood – I decided that it was the New Year finishing off the Old Year in a fusilade of gun fire, with a final ‘kill shot’ coming from a large firework that shook the house.

No Jools Holland, no sparkly drinkies. This year we just didn’t feel up to it; I think we were just glad to get shut of 2016 as quickly as possible with as little palaver as possible.

I come to New Year’s Eve with a small collection of superstitions from my childhood.

I was very popular as a ‘first footer’ as an older child – I had dark hair (which apparently is good) and would be shooed out of the house just before midnight, armed with a piece of shortbread and a piece of coal. After the stroke of midnight, I’d be welcomed in to the house and the shortbread and coal were to signify that no one in the house would be hungry or cold in the coming year.

It was also important to go in to the New Year with no clothes drying around the house, and no pots waiting to be washed or washing in the washing machine.  The idea was that the state of the house would give an indication as to what things would be like in the coming year.  A sort of ‘start as you intend to go on’.

Both of these superstitions suggested some sort of ‘sympathetic magic’ in which what happened at New Year influenced the year to come, and if that’s the case my 2017 will be a mixed bag indeed. The first thing drunk in 2017 has been a cup of tea, the first thing done was to then put a hot water bottle in the bed. I then fed the cats, cleared up a small turd left in the bathroom by Jarvis, finished writing my intercessionary prayers for Evening Prayers tomorrow evening, and wrote this blog post.

On this basis, my 2017 will be based around tea, hot water bottles, cat-care, God and writing.

I could do worse.

Happy New Year!