End of the day at Greenbelt #gb14

by Richard on August 22, 2014

I’m sitting in an improvised dining shelter, preparing to get into my tent at Greenbelt. Listened to a talk by Brian McLaren (”Bible 3.0″), which was ok, followed by a pint in the site pub “The Jesus Arms”. Now enjoying the darkness and relative peace with a cup of coffee breed cowboy style on my trangia, but the warmth of my sleeping bag has an increasing appeal. Night all!

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Saying goodbye

by Richard on August 21, 2014

It’s the time of year when Methodist ministers up and down Britain are swapping manses. All (almost) appointments begin on September 1st, so the weeks of August are filled with endings and beginnings. My colleague Paul Weary, who is going through this process himself, reflects on the importance of a good farewell.

As I move on I am acutely aware of things left incomplete, problems unresolved, loose ends left untied. Many of the hopes and dreams I had coming to the circuit nine years ago were unfulfilled. Of course this is not my responsibility alone, though sometimes I have thought it was, and for this sin too I need to say sorry; ministry is shared by minister and people. To recognise this and offer mutual confession and forgiveness is part of the process of saying goodbye and moving on.

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Greenland ice loss continues to increase

by Richard on August 20, 2014

From the BBC

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year.

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

“The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute.

“To us, that’s an incredible number,” she told BBC News.

In its report to The Cryosphere journal, the AWI team does not actually calculate a sea-level rise equivalent number, but if this volume is considered to be all ice (a small part will be snow) then the contribution is likely to be on the order of just over a millimetre per year.

This is the latest study to use the precision altimetry data being gathered by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat platform.

Cryosat uses a radar instrument to measure the shape of polar ice surfaces
The satellite was launched in 2010 with a sophisticated radar instrument specifically designed to measure the shape of the polar ice sheets.

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How did we get the gospels?

by Richard on August 20, 2014

With thanks to the Seedbed Blog (via the Methoblog)

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How to do it - some Antipodean wisdom

by Richard on August 19, 2014

With thanks to Jason Goroncy for posting and to Michael Leunig for creating this

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Ignore No More: more fuel for parental anxiety

by Richard on August 19, 2014

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when I read yesterday about Ignore No More

Getting the silent treatment from your kids? A new app lets you lock their phone until they respond.

The “Ignore No More” app was created by Sharon Standifird, a Houston mom who describes herself as a school teacher turned entrepreneur.

“Few things are more frustrating than your children refusing to answer your calls or respond to your text messages,” her website explains. So the app lets parents remotely lock their kids’ phones until they get in touch.

“(Now) your child has only two options — he or she can call you back, or call for an emergency responder. No calls to friends, no text, no games, not until they call you back. When they do, you can unlock their phone if you choose to do so. How’s that for parental control?”

Here’s how it works: Parents install “Ignore No More” on their phones and set up a list of contacts the child can call when their phone is locked.

When you decide to lock your child’s phone, he or she can only call the contacts on the special list you’ve set up. Those contacts can provide a password to unlock the phone. The child can also still always call 911. Standifird promises that it is “virtually impossible” for kids to remove the app from their phones.

This is just another symptom of an increasing parental anxiety that bears no relationship to the real level of risk faced by children and young people today. While this is nothing new, my sense is that it is getting worse. Parents seem to be finding it ever more difficult to allow their children any genuine freedom or responsibility and my fear is that, while this is being done in the name of safety, it will actually increase the risk to individuals and society in the future. Children need to learn to assess risk and danger for themselves, and the truth is there’s really only one way they can do that. They have to do it. For themselves.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in the Guardian, puts it well

Having a phone on you can sometimes make you feel invulnerable, but, ultimately, being safety conscious is much more important – technology shouldn’t make us complacent. As a generally anxious person, I do worry that something bad has happened to my family with alarming regularity. The instinct is to call for reassurance, and when that call goes unanswered, it can send you into a tailspin of worst-case scenarios.

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Scout website

by Richard on August 18, 2014

My scout troop needed a website, so I’ve had a bit of a play with wix: here’s the result: 23rd Shrewsbury Scouts.

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Psychological responses to Climate Change

by Richard on August 18, 2014

Our response to climate change is uncannily similar to an even more universal disavowal: unwillingness to face our own mortality, says neuroscientist Janis Dickinson of Cornell University in New York. She argues that overt images of death and decay along with the deeper implications of societal decline and collapse are powerful triggers for denial of mortality.

There is a great deal of research showing that people respond to reminders of death with aggressive assertion of their own group identity. Dickinson argues that political polarisation and angry denial found around climate change is consistent with this “terror management theory”. Again, there is a complex relationship between our psychology and the narratives that we construct to make sense of climate change.

George Marshall | New Scientist

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Hymn of the day (a bloggers return)

by Richard on August 17, 2014

My apologies for dropping out, and my thanks to Kim for stepping in to the breach. Here’s a bit of Wesley to begin to put my blogging back on track.

JESUS, in whom the weary find
Their late, but permanent repose,
Physician of the sin-sick mind,
Relieve my wants, assuage my woes;
And let my soul on thee be cast,
Till life’s fierce tyranny be past.

Loosed from my God, and far removed,
Long have I wandered to and fro,
O’er earth in endless circles roved,
Nor found whereon to rest below:
Back to my God at last I fly,
For O, the waters still are high!

Selfish pursuits, and nature’s maze,
The things of earth, for thee I leave;
Put forth thy hand, thy hand of grace,
Into the ark of love receive,
Take this poor fluttering soul to rest,
And lodge it, Saviour, in thy breast.

Fill with inviolable peace,
Stablish and keep my settled heart;
In thee may all my wanderings cease,
From thee no more may I depart;
Thy utmost goodness called to prove,
Loved with an everlasting love!

Charles Wesley

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Transfiguration Day - c. 30 and 1945

by Kim on August 6, 2014

“He was completely changed right before their eyes, his face brilliantly lit, like the sun, his clothes flashing with light.”
– Matthew 17:2 (my translation)

“The hour was early; the morning still, warm, and beautiful. Shimmering leaves, reflecting sunlight from a cloudless sky … Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me — and then another. So well does one recall little things that I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became brilliantly lit and I debated whether this light was caused by a magnesium flare or sparks from a passing trolley.”
– Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, Hiroshima survivor

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Sam is a pimp, but he’s my Uncle

by Kim on August 2, 2014

This is not the first time that I have been embarrassed – no, ashamed – to be an American because of the US’s malign foreign policy, silently sinister or thunderously overt. Travelling around Europe in the summer of 1969 – Vietnam; living in Oxford during the onset of the Reagan presidency – Nicaragua and Chile; ministering in Swansea throughout the Bushwhacking years – Afghanistan and Iraq. But this – THIS – Gaza – the US’s steadfast support for Israel as it lays waste to a region, a people – the mealy-mouthed admonitions of restraint, the stonewalling at the UN, the steady supply of arms to the IDF – a neologism is needed, “ashamed” is too token, hackneyed, morally feeble (I guess it’s the decades of moral attrition). I feel like I am observing a political version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which the leadership of a nation has had its collective conscience replaced by a cold, calculating, and cowardly heart, supported by junk-food journalism voraciously devoured by a popcorn populace, not to mention a Christian right that suffers from terminal TDD (Theological Deficit Disorder).

I get it that there is merit to the “Why single out Israel?” argument when it comes to nation-state horror shows; that the Arab nations have perversely pitched their tents in the moral lowlands and continue to pose a threat to the existence of Israel; that Hamas is a contemptible and corrupt organisation, and diplomatic poison for the Palestinian people. I also understand that for historical, religious, and cultural reasons, the US and Israel have a “special relationship”. But that is precisely why the US is in a position to tell its brother, “Enough is enough!”, and not just by mouth but with political and economic teeth.

Indeed, so indefensible, according to Just War criteria, is Israel’s depredations in Gaza – particularly, though not solely, the ius in bello criteria of proportionality and discrimination – and so visibly and viscerally repugnant (“Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son” – Brian Eno), that if not for pity for the Palestinians, then for concern not only for Israel – this war will make it less, not more secure – but also for the Jewish diaspora, the US must radically repent. For the tragic-ironic fact is that Israel’s overkill is now generating an upsurge in European anti-Semitism – and I mean the real and loathsome kind of anti-Semitism, not the shut-down smear that is indiscriminately lobbed at critics of Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza (some of which – another tragic irony – are themselves no doubt racist). There is even a case for realpolitik: if it continues its unconditional support for Israel, the US will surely lose much of the global good will that it has been re-earning in the wake of its insane interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not, I acknowledge, that most homeland Americans give a toss.

I am, of course, aware that this polemic will fall overwhelmingly on deaf ears at best, and raise a shitstorm in a teacup at worst. The thing is, if I’m now uberashamed to be an American, I’d be more so were I to be a quiet uberashamed American. To riff on Augustine, Sam is a pimp, but he’s my Uncle, and when I see him screwing people, I’ve got to tell him to stop.

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Lamech was a wimp

by Kim on July 30, 2014

At least 1,200 Palestinians and 55 Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on 8 July.
Most of the Palestinian deaths have been civilians.
Some 53 Israeli soldiers have been killed along with two civilians.
– BBC, 30 July

That’s a ratio of 22 Palestinian dead for 1 Israeli dead.

Let’s ridiculously err on the side of Israeli military accuracy and say 600 of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, compared to 2 Israeli civilian deaths. Then the ratio becomes 300 to 1.

As for children - well, never mind. Not least because a child should only count as half a person, shouldn’t he, she - it?

According to Genesis 4:24 (GNB), Lamech said, “If seven lives are taken to pay for killing Cain, seventy-seven will be taken if anyone kills me.” That’s a ratio of 11 to 1.

Clearly Lamech was a softie, Lamech was a wimp.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 25, 2014

GOD of all power, and truth, and grace,
Which shall from age to age endure,
Whose word, when heaven and earth shall pass,
Remains and stands for ever sure;

That I thy mercy may proclaim,
That all mankind thy truth may see,
Hallow thy great and glorious name,
And perfect holiness in me.

Thy sanctifying Spirit pour,
To quench my thirst, and make me clean;
Now, Father, let the gracious shower
Descend, and make me pure from sin.

Purge me from every sinful blot;
My idols all be cast aside;
Cleanse me from every sinful thought,
From all the filth of self and pride.

Give me a new, a perfect heart,
From doubt, and fear, and sorrow free;
The mind which was in Christ impart,
And let my spirit cleave to thee.

O take this heart of stone away!
Thy sway it doth not, cannot own;
In me no longer let it stay,
O take away this heart of stone!

O that I now, from sin released,
Thy word may to the utmost prove,
Enter into the promised rest,
The Canaan of thy perfect love!

Now let me gain perfection’s height,
Now let me in to nothing fall,
Be less than nothing in thy sight,
And feel that Christ is all in all.

Charles Wesley

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With all your mind?

by Kim on May 22, 2014

A reblog of a post by Kim Fabricius from 2006

When he was just a bog-standard bishop in Wales, Rowan Williams once addressed a meeting of Swansea church leaders. The host introduced the future Archbishop of Canterbury by outlining his CV, including his impressive academic achievements. He then concluded: “Although Dr. Williams is a great theologian, nevertheless he loves the Lord.”

Priceless! “Although . . . nevertheless”! As if intelligence were inimical to faith! Hence Bertrand Russell’s quip that “Christians would rather die than think - and most of them do.” Ouch!

We are a long way here from the Great Commandment, which includes loving the Lord not only with your heart and soul, but also with your mind (Mark 12:30). A long way too from that egghead from Tarsus named Paul, who valued discerning intelligence over emotional indulgence, and rebuked the Corinthians for their childish thinking. “Be infants in evil,” he told them, “but in thinking be adults” (I Corinthians 14:20 NRSV).

St. Augustine (354-430) was a worthy heir of Paul in his insistence that faith and thought are complementary, not contradictory. “Everyone who believes, thinks,” he wrote, “for by believing one thinks, and by thinking one believes.” Indeed the Bishop of Hippo spoke of his own conversion as a search for “true philosophy”.

St. Anselm (c. 1033-1109), who preferred to defend Christianity by reasoned argument rather than by appeal to scripture, summarised the Augustinian tradition with the phrase fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding”. Faith itself summons us to use our minds to know God.

It certainly summoned St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74). The Angelic Doctor’s masterpiece the Summa Theologica, over two million words of systematic thinking, is based on two premises: reason needs faith, and faith needs reason.. You could say that reason without faith is empty, but faith without reason is blind.

The Reformers agreed. True, Martin Luther (1483-1546) once called reason a whore - but only when it divorces itself from revelation and sets out its own stall. Thinking rationally in the wake of revelation, however, is what the voyage of faith is all about.

During the United Reformed Church’s discussion on human sexuality, a traditionalist wrote to our national magazine Reform declaring that “we are in danger of promoting scholarship above faith and Scripture,” and he appealed to the Reformers as men who “would reckoned to have ‘died theologically’ with the apostles.” “Which Reformers are these?” I replied. Luther, a professor of Biblical Studies, whose “tower experience” of re-birth turned on the recovery of the Greek New Testament by learned north European humanists? Or John Calvin (1509-64), master of both classical rhetoric and the new learning, whose Institutes of the Christian Religion, continually re-thought and re-written, combined rigorous grammatical and historical analysis with penetrating spiritual insight?

The fact is that the Reformers, the seventeenth Puritan divines and their successors were the intellectual giants of their day. They promoted habits of the heart, but as Jonathan Edwards said, “Holy affections are not heat without light.” Nor did they write for specialists but for ordinary church members who were proud that their churches were cultures of learning. These pious folk would certainly have repudiated any attempt to dissociate faith from scholarship as a recipe for obscurantism and ignorance.

Alas the brain-dead will always be with us, reprimanding ministers who challenge people to use their loaf, to think critically about their beliefs as they interface with the challenges of the day. It might, they allege, upset folk’s “simple faith”. But folk with a “simple faith” have a way of growing up. They begin to ask hard questions. They want to answer the challenges of science, not turn a deaf ear. They want to make sense of the problem of suffering, not live in denial. And, faithful to the gospel itself, they want to be able “to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (I Peter 3:15 GNB). If we never doubt our beliefs, we may well end up believing our doubts.

The great Reformed theologian of revelation Karl Barth (1886-1968) was once asked what place reason had in his theology. Barth replied: “I use it.” So should we. We should use our God-given minds precisely in the service of God’s self-disclosure in Christ - which is ultimately in the service of truth. And if the two seem mutually contradictory? I’m with Simone Weil, who said provocatively: “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him, because before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

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From the European Space Agency

Three years of observations from ESA’s CryoSat satellite show that the Antarctic ice sheet is now losing 159 billion tonnes of ice each year – twice as much as when it was last surveyed.

The polar ice sheets are a major contributor to the rise in global sea levels, and these newly measured losses from Antarctica alone are enough to raise global sea levels by 0.45 mm each year.

These latest findings by a team of scientists from the UK’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling show that the pattern of imbalance continues to be dominated by glaciers thinning in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.

Between 2010 and 2013, West Antarctica, East Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula lost 134, 3 and 23 billion tonnes of ice each year, respectively.

The average rate of ice thinning in West Antarctica has increased compared to previous measurements, and this area’s yearly loss is now one third more than measured over the five years before CryoSat’s launch.

Just in case you thought climate change had gone away

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The elephant in the detention centre

by Kim on May 20, 2014

I’ve just had another letter published in the British daily the i (May 20th). Maybe I ought to suggest to the editor that he gives me a regular column. Anyway, here’s my latest.

Sir:

In having a grumble at Mark Steels’ superb Swiftian send-up of Ukip, Mark Taha insists that “We are an overcrowded country” (letter, 19 May).

But it’s not really about numbers, is it? The elephant in the detention centre is colour and ethnicity, isn’t it?

Otherwise why do we never hear complaints about all the Yanks, Ozzies and Canucks residing in the UK, over 350,000 of them?

Oops, the overwhelming majority are white and culturally like “us”.

Revd. Kim Fabricius
Swansea

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Living in God

by Richard on May 19, 2014

I wonder if you know the tv comedy Open All Hours. British readers certainly will, though I’m not sure how widely travelled it has been. (It was filmed in my home town and I’ve got a particular soft spot for it)

In the show, the incomparable Ronnie Barker plays Arkwright, a stuttering shopkeeper whose meanness is matched only by his ability to get people to part with their money. He never gives anything away. Anything spilled, broken, dropped or sampled has to be paid for, even by his long-suffering assistant Granville. Arkwright may occasionally show a kindly face, but it is only a mask. Underneath he is a colossal and unrepentant miser who is out to get every penny that he can.

I can’t help but notice that there is a widespread view that God is a kind of cosmic Arkwright. Every debt, no matter how small, must be paid for. Every account must be settled. The books must be kept straight, even if that means extracting the price from his own son.* To misquote Cowper, “Behind a smiling providence / He hides a frowning face”. Such a god has much to commend him. He is at least unbendingly fair. But he is not the God that Jesus proclaimed, pointed to and embodied.

In John 15:9 Jesus says to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” This is at the heart of Jesus’ “farewell discourse”, words of strength and reassurance given by Jesus before his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. The disciples are not only reassured of his continuing presence with them in the Holy Spirit, they are invited to share the relationship of love that exists eternally within the life of God.

This is a relationship so deeply mysterious that the ‘Church Fathers’ had to coin a word to express it: perichoresis. It isn’t a word you hear all that often (!), neither is easy to give it a succinct definition. That’s hardly surprising. Perichoresis describes the relationship of Father, Son & Holy Spirit in the Trinity. Such things are not given to being succinct. But exploring its meaning, straining afer the sense of it, can lead us deeper in to what it means to be disciples of Jesus, for it suggests mutuality and exchange, a relationship that is both passive (each person ‘contained’ in the other) and active (each person moving in and through the other). I recommend Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity by Paul Fiddes for a good introduction to this stuff. The relationship of perichoresis is one so close that, as I read once, if one weeps the other tastes salt.

And it is that kind of loving relationship into which Jesus invites us. (”As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…” John 17:21) We may never expect to achieve relationships of that quality, but that is the life to which Jesus points, the life he offers. It is a love without “ifs” and “buts”, a love which makes no demands and certainly requires no payment. It is the gift of God, a gift we are called to share.

Arkwright would never understand.

* I know. A lot of substitutionary theology is much more subtle than this. But there is a great deal that isn’t. And the more ‘popular’ the substitutionary theology, the less likely to be subtle it is. In my experience. And yes, I’m reblogging again.

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The Way, the Truth and the Life

by Richard on May 18, 2014

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This is the verse that drives so much Christian evangelism. “No one comes to the Father except through me” says Jesus and the proper response is to make sure that as many as possible know about him. It is a simple and unequivocal truth - they need to know about Jesus, and we tell ‘em. Is that what it means? I’m not so sure.

The context of the verse is that Jesus is speaking to his disciples as they gather in that upper room for their “Last Supper”. The disciples are frightened and bewildered. They’ve heard Jesus talk about their betrayal and desertion of him. Worse still, they know he faces death. Jesus addresses their doubt and fear with words of comfort, faith and hope. John, writing his gospel for a beleaguered Christian church recalls these words of Jesus because they speak directly to the situation his community faces. They too are uncertain about the future and are in need of the same strength and comfort as those first disciples. In short, the intention of Jesus, and of John in his record, is essentially pastoral - assuring the faithful of their place in God’s house. Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life. Not religious opinion about him, not statements of faith about him - he, himself, is the way.

What is that way? “You want to know the way?” says Jesus. A farmer sows his seed and casts it everywhere, on good soil and on bad. A father has two sons, one a dutiful, hard-worker - the other a waster. The father loves them both. A shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in the fold to go and search for the one sheep that is lost - and he does not give up until the lost sheep is restored. A landowner hires men throughout the day - and pays them all according to need rather than by the measure of their service. That, says Jesus, is the way. How reluctant we are to accept the way that Jesus shows us, the way of uncompromising compassion and extravagant generosity - the way of welcome and inclusion.

Lord, show us the way.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 18, 2014

Arise, my soul, arise;
shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice
in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.

He ever lives above,
for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love,
His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears;
received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray,
His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away,
the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

Charles Wesley

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Today (May 15th) is International Conscientious Objectors Day. Howard Zinn (1922-2010), the American historian, author, and activist, wrote: “They have the guns, we have the poets. Therefore, we will win.” Here is one of our poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her poem “Conscientious Objector”.

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.

I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans,
many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast,
I will not tell him where the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to any man’s door.

Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me;
never through me
Shall you be overcome.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Selected Poems (New York: Perennial Classics, 1999), p. 103.

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