Tag Archives: Providence

At World’s End

Memorable quotes for: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Jack Sparrow: Where does your allegiance lie?
Tai Huang: With the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: I have a ship.
Tai Huang: That makes you the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: Good man. ‘Weigh anchor all hands. Prepare to make sail.

The question is: Why is this quote memorable? I want to write a few thoughts about this question, maybe answering it in part, and from a point of view as a follower of Jesus.

In the first place it is witty – in a cheeky Jack Sparrow way – sharp smart talk. It’s pithy, to the point, no bones about it stuff. And what makes it memorable for me is this repartee quality which lays bare in a few exchanges a whole ethic for life based on hard empirical circumstance.

It a is funny typical Jack Sparrow exchange, the wide-boy, who lives by the skin of his teeth, by the seat of his pants, on his wits and on opportunity as opportunity arises. Remember his loveable bathetic boast;

‘This is the day you will always remember as the day you nearly caught Captain Jack Sparrow’

He’s the type of a character whom, in common wisdom, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get an advantage over. He can turn things round in an instant, from put down and offence received to riposte in joyous rebuttal, just thrown off the tongue as light and airy as a spring morning. And this refreshes us; we joy in it along with Jack, and recognize truth of a sort in his outlook and modus operandi:

Captain Norrington: ‘You are just about the worst pirate I have ever heard of’.

Jack Sparrow: ‘Ah! But you have heard of me!’

Weaselling and a little bit deferential; but also there is defiance here and the salvage and recovery of a dented self-esteem

Jack then is the Loveable Rogue. Not completely loveable; some things he does are beyond the pale, unacceptable, as humour, wit, or by conscience. His marvellous draw on our continued attention is carried by the way the unconscionable things in Jack Sparrow’s repertoire of tricks and wheezes are made to redound upon him, to chastise him, to knock him back, and as the US citizens say, bring him back into line (in as far as he ever gets completely ‘in line’).

We see then by giving attention to Jack, and it is there for us to learn from, there is quite a bit about life, and how it operates on people in general; how people are ‘kept in line’ by the machinery or maybe the Providential direction that subsists our in living out human life.

This direction of Providence (let’s just call it that, it’s the choice I favour) is not merely or even exactly present in social life; in the changing and dynamic relations between people in any form that will approximate to simple cause and effect.

Although it is true that many of us in a social sense ‘get away with’ trespasses a hundredfold that are done by us among our acquaintance; and true also that conversely many insinuating social trespasses we do are ‘paid back’ by our acquaintance. Notwithstanding it’s all still a bit pot luck, because, nonetheless, ‘paybacks’ can begin feuding and grudges, and pan out as disproportionate to the peccadillo they serve their rough justice on, and these harsh responses to affronts are socially destructive and chronically so in many instances.

How many of you know of an auntie or nephew who ‘doesn’t talk to’ and hasn’t talked to a relative any more for over the past X many years?

So social remedies for stepping out of order, when these are directed directly by the wills and intents of men and women upon those acquaintance who have offended them; these remedies are not adequate to the Providential task of chastisement with a view to reformation of the person.

Experience tells me that ‘pay backs’ like revenges generally lead to more deep and more permanent social dysfunction between injured parties, so that ‘pay backs’ are working, at least as often as not, contrariwise to the tendency a benevolent chastisement might be expected to lead: i.e. towards reformation.

Socially and institutionally the case of prison sentences, and of how far these punish for attrition’s sake, or at the other extreme, correct for rehabilitation’s sake, continues to be a plaything cast about so as to accord with the expediencies of politicians

Many, maybe most, people want to deliver punishments for attrition’s sake, especially when the victim of the crime is themselves, or a person close to them; although there are many besides who wish attrition in principle, (or should I say, by nature?)

Few people are in earnest about wanting prison sentences to turn prisoners around. Our motives are never pure of course but maybe there are some few whose uppermost desire is to want to make offenders good citizens; and who put this motivation above any lesser reason or outcome?

As for the law courts, these are in existence exactly because human justice cannot be left to personal action, and because our social fabric benefits from, or rather does not receive harm from, the appointed persons of judges being our umpires and referees in our commonplace disputes and offences. In general everyone accepts the sentences of the courts, and thereafter matters lie more or less settled.

Even so, human justice is not remarkably efficacious in handing down appropriate ‘readjustments’ to the lives of the persons it ‘puts away’. It’s not that judges don’t get their sentencing right, or that juries make mistakes now and then; they do, generally speaking. It is because a judge sentences using a very different set of criteria than Providential chastisement tends to use.

A judge is considering ideas like harm to a victim, to society, the gravity of the offence, the knock-on consequences including deterrence value, and making an example to others; even the temper of the day enters into sentencing, according to what we believe as nations to be right, wrong, punishable, understandable, and so forth. The focus of a judge then is on a) the victim’s injury and pain, and b) the requirements of society as embodied in (up-to-date) statute law and relevant case histories.

So in social relations, even in those formalised within a nation, the correction, the justice, the punishment meted out to transgressors is markedly not suited to, – what shall I call it? – maybe ‘old fashioned character-building’?

Now words move house from time to time, and some are evicted onto the streets where they die shortly afterwards and are heard of no more. ‘Character’ has moved house from a stately residence downmarket into a semi-detached small flat which tenants low income residents.

When do we hear the word nowadays? ‘He’s a character!’ ‘A character part acted in a drama’. ‘That character there knocked over my coffee!’ Rarely otherwise nowadays, not even ‘He is a man of character’, or ‘she has developed character since I knew here at school’. Maybe, just seldom, a judge might use the phrase ‘She is of previous good character’, although I doubt many of us understand well what this statement ought to be telling us?

Character is something beers and wines have these days, and maybe cheeses? Character is not what makes an individual distinctive any more; and this is ironical in an age that would be an age of individualists.

A casual remark from usual individualists these days is said when they are challenged; it is said as an attempt to distance themselves from rebuke; when they normally claim something like:

‘It’s my life. I can do what I like.’

It is as if being an individual and showing individualism is found in shrugging off burdens which often in fact are social graces; burdens embodying acting responsibly and contributing towards supplying others’ needs and their legitimate desires. The bolthole ‘It’s my life’ is perceived by those who run to it as liberational for them; as ‘breaking free’. It is somewhere near being ‘free from’, but nowhere near being ‘free to’.

Perhaps uncomfortably for too many, character, when defined as a willingness and ability to bear burdens, is burdensome; especially when it vitally includes actually bearing with gladness such burdens. This looks like the contrary to what individualism looks like to many people today, who make very little or nothing of an idea that character as such is a defining mark of an individual.

The trend and consensus has been for perhaps 30 or more years now that shedding your burdensome loads frees-up a person, to be him/herself. It is as if being most-fully human is to be achieved when one most disassociates oneself, almost in laboratory-like distance, and rejects and denies connection with needy others, or caring for them, as if they are persona non grata.

This understanding of life is common, and it says:

‘This is my world (substitute ‘car’, ‘business’, ‘life’,) and I can invite into it just whom I want and choose to; and have a right to keep out of it just whom I don’t want and don’t wish to come into it’

Being human is primarily experienced in our living relationships with one another, in social organisation, and in an affirmative engagement with current issues and concerns

‘Character’ has a first cousin, which is the word ‘duty’. This word too has also come down in the world in a rapid decline. ‘Duty’s’ once-honourable station has sunk and is more or less derelict.

‘Duty’ is what you pay on shopping trips to Paris and New York. Policemen and officials still have duties, although the word’s usage in this context is a technical one with little concept of honouring obligation by self-giving for no pecuniary reward.

Duty, as a burden a person voluntarily takes upon herself with all good will and joy; and without looking to recompense or congratulation; is not really part of a modern mindset. I suspect there are persons here and there who work with a passion to do their duty with joy, commitment, vigour and goodwill. And to do this demonstrates their character.

Having written this digression on words, I want to go back to Jack Sparrow and how he fits into the workings, ‘seen through a glass darkly’ by fragile humanity, of that chastisement sent to reform us by Providence.

I have claimed that society because of its temper and its institutions cannot normally supply correction for the sake of reformation to us. Not by means of society’s directly collective and conscious intentions.

Neither tit-for-tat vengeances nor statute law can supply the conditions which lead to regeneration for prisoners or by means of feuding or vendetta-like relationships.

What might be a clear example of a Providential chastisement at work and which displays some of the means by which it is effectual? Maybe that wonderful portion of John’s Gospel which is omitted too often from Bibles as being supposed apocryphal: John Chapter 8 verses 1 to 11 – The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery.

She has been seized by the holy men of Jerusalem and brought before Jesus for him to pronounce punishment upon her. It is a trap. As the KJV has it, there is a plan to ‘catch him in his words’ hatched and plotted by the same holy men.

For Jesus to forgive her outright is for him to dismiss and to deny Mosaic Law; thus undercutting his claim to be in the line of Moses and the prophets; the Anointed One who was to come.

For Jesus to order her stoned to death, the Mosaic punishment for adultery, brings into conflict his teaching of the cardinal sanctity of forgiveness, mercy and love. No way out, then?

But he answers his enemies and pronounces on the woman with that astounding sentence:

‘He who is without sin among you; let him cast the first stone’

Jesus then sitting quietly looking down, writing in the sand with a finger, until the consciences of the mob surrounding him, aroused and pricked by an arm of Providence, sends them away slowly, and a little at a time. First the eldest leave, those who most have worked to live the Law longest, and who have the greater life experience. Then follow others down to the youngest who also at the last disperse; because the youngest lack the ballast of sufficient inner-conviction and have no support in the older ones (the assurance of the authority in the elders) and have small life experience. And Jesus says to the woman now alone:

‘Has no-one condemned you? Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.’

There is no supernatural miraculous intervention, sign, act, done here; Jesus has allowed life, in that vital temper of experience we accrue with years, naturally to work itself out; and so it did. Our consciences and understandings are enough to enable us envisaging the only route of integrity to us – we must walk away.

The tables have been turned on the holy men; who have been hoist on their own petard; the trickery they were planning to force Jesus into a corner has redounded on themselves. ‘Those who dig a pit for others shall fall into it’

Therein lay Jesus’s absolute trust and certainty in the action of Divine Providence; one that is embedded, dynamically, in all things. I say it has been put there and is sustained there by the God in heaven.

There’s no aery metaphysic in what I’m saying, no giant leap for mankind; but instead there is nature, if you like, including our sometimes savage and heartless human nature, carrying a superscription within it; a spark, a breath, an image, a vestige, a token, of the Divine heritage planted as seed in us and originating out of God’s Love towards us.

Such a Providence is not exhausted by the work of conscience in us; but has a direction and chastisement of a much broader extension.

Let’s get back to Jack Sparrow: I believe it is a Spanish proverb which says:

‘God said; ‘you can take what you like; but you have to pay for it.’’

Jack Sparrow hears this sentiment in the advice given him by his father in a scene in the fourth movie.

‘It’s not about life, and living forever; but the trick is, if you know what I mean, it’s living with yourself.’

Jesus says with simplicity, before the crowd that is wanting the blood of the adulterous woman, and he speaks not in a spirit of inquisitive searching after faults in us, but out of the tenderness that there resides in God’s love for each of us.

Such is the lesson that even hard-headed economists acknowledge the costs to the self seated within all experience; as the late Milton Friedman was quoted as contending:

‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’.

Jack Sparrow insolently accepts thanks from Barbossa, for a deed done which he did not intend as assistance or benefit to others. Barbossa counters, ‘Not you, we called the monkey Jack’. Jack Sparrow is silenced and mortified. He is towed back into line again.

Of course, like life in the real world, all the power-hungry, audacious and unscrupulous characters in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ saga step in and out of line as opportunity permits and as the world knocks them back again; except that the movies are entertaining.
The movie characters are pitched one against another in a loose and plastic anarchy of wills for supremacy; building alliances and making betrayals as quickly and as conveniently as is expedient. Jack is the gem in the story, with the wittiest lines and the smartest ripostes; but all are at it, carving out a destiny from hard fortune and a total absence of fidelity.

Jack Sparrow: Where does your allegiance lie?
Tai Huang: With the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: I have a ship.
Tai Huang: That makes you the highest bidder.
Jack Sparrow: Good man. ‘Weigh anchor all hands. Prepare to make sail.

In the real world things go on just the same; things that we call corruption, insensitivity, malice, greed, avarice, pride, the whole seven sins for the whole nine yards. It’s ugly though and not at all photogenic.

But where do we see in this real world the workings of God’s Providence to reform and regenerate men and women on this dreadful, sinful, calloused earth we mourn for daily upon each hour of news bulletining graphic images displaying so much wrong and pain and needless rapaciousness?

Where? Where?

Take Mali – in the north rebels, said to be loyal to Al Qaeda; recently have taken large areas and towns and cities. Timbuktu’s ancient libraries have been burnt and looted. Ordinary people have been displaced, and reports say some have been massacred by the rebels.

The French flew in troops and gained back some ground; and the bulletins reported rumours of reprisals and burnings by Malians against their own who had collaborated with the rebels – maybe to save their own necks? Ugly, harsh, real life.

What can be said of this terrible mess? What hope can come from this despair? How can God work here?

Only the baddies get their comeuppance in the movies; in real life comeuppance is democratic and a leveller.

Mali, as with much of Africa, is enormously rich in natural resources; and the men and women who love wealth and sway have a presence in legion, extracting minerals and wealth from the land and from the populace; that bounty which God planted under their feet.

Local people are generally poor to the point of subsistence living; live off the land, a few crops; or employment at a mine or quarry. Wages and returns are meagre – a dollar a day economy.

So young men of initiative form bands and look for a highest bidder to sell their allegiance to; and become militias, guns for hire, guns for survival, serving, say, Al Qaeda?

Perhaps some few believe in Al Qaeda; for most, Al Qaeda pays the bills and serves up the dinners.

Look now to Afghanistan. The Taliban is another plastic and moveable feast of an enemy. One year one tribe is with the UN allies; next, when the deal goes sour or the terms pick up, the same tribe is with the Taliban. One of the chief weapons in the armoury of the UN allies has been the commercialisation and economic development of Afghanistan; which policy in the ‘noughties’ was highly instrumental in bringing and keeping the peace in place in Northern Ireland.

Give people something to lose and you get their affiliation. Provide for people and you kill the violence.

The reverse is also true. Keep them poor, as in much of Africa, like Mali, and you keep them forming militias and fighting. Remember the repartee between Jack and Mr Gibbs at the close of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie:

Jack Sparrow: ‘Take what you can!’

Jack and Gibbs in Chorus: ‘Give nothing back!!’

A sour philosophy; and one for the unregenerate and nearsighted

Compare and contrast the Anglican Liturgical response at the Eucharist:

Priest: ‘All things come of Thee’

Response: ‘And of Thine own do we give Thee’

Here if anywhere is expressed succinctly the vast and abrupt chasm between the sacred and the secular outlook in men and women of the world.

There is irony here too. By us looking after ourselves firstly and exclusively, by us taking and not giving, by us exploiting and not sharing, we bring down on our heads the consequent maladies due from primarily looking after ourselves.

Were we to offer from our great store in the West just some substantive amount to the peoples of Mali, of Afghanistan, and the dollar a day economies; not just money, which for us is easy to give away and is an easy give away extricating a more engaged commitment; not our culture and our ways, which are the causes of many of the maladies and deprivations; not just technology and know-how and capital projects, aid and direction; but LOVE – we would come alive by the giving of life – and the dollar a day people would come alive also.

When a man or woman can get enough to feed and shelter and clothe and gain respect for his or her family, and tribe and town and city and friends and acquaintance; without having to carry a gun and earn bread by way of giving death and oppression; he and she will do so. The greatest power of the militias is the power of our reputations in their world outlooks. It’s hard to kill someone, or think ill of them, when you know they are kind and loving and that they try to love you.

I am going to say something now which is highly controversial – but true. The criticism of the West by its enemies has too much in it that is near the bone for us here to rest comfortable with our own complacencies.

We revel in Dickens, and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchitt, the loveable poor; set on high moral ground against the rich and reprobate Scrooge and Marley. We especially revel at Christmastime. How outraged and maybe piously-so we are when Tiny Tim, in prospect, dies, and how vaingloriously self-satisfied we are when Scrooge, in prospect, meets his own gravestone.

And how marvellous it is that this happened in fiction a hundred and fifty years ago: and how we have moved on and progressed and are beyond this nowadays.

‘Thou hast committed fornication
But that was in another country
and besides the wench is dead’

The relation between us and the Malians in the bush whose militias are carrying guns in the name of Al Qaeda; this relation is as the one between Scrooge and Tiny Tim; between Marley and Mali.

It is my conviction that were the will there, then the peoples of the world can be fed, housed, clothed, cared for, and that resources can be found to do this, and that finding these; and we being instrumentally contributory would do us no end of good and bring us back to life from the brink of a stale and dying culture and society.

But God’s will is not for enlightened self-interest – it is not a bargain made on eBay, a bid or a gamble or a comfortable compromise. God’s will has no compromise. God’s love is unconstrained and unlike scare commodities is boundless to overflowing – enough and more for everyone.

To realise this, to make it so, as Captain Picard says, is no less than to build the Kingdom here.

William Blake’s – Jerusalem
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon this land’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On this land’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this land’s green and pleasant land.

I declare that all this I have written here is true and accurate, and that I have a good faith belief that the postulations made here are ‘reasonably practicable’, as the statute law has it.

I declare that I am assured in myself by long reflection upon and consideration of my and others’ life experiences, that God has so made things, as for things in motion to ensure without exception, that we are always acting to cheat ourselves when we seek to cheat others; and that we are always harming ourselves when we seek to harm others, and that we are always denigrating ourselves when we seek to denigrate others.

Newton’s Law of Motion states that ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’. Simply put, this law applies every bit as succinctly and as scrupulously in matters of living human life, and applies in life every bit as broadly and forcefully as Newton’s Law applies in the world of physics – or, the study, as it was once called, of Natural Philosophy.

This Divine law of reciprocation, of swings and roundabouts, of GIGO, of ‘give is to receive’ and ‘lose oneself is to find oneself’ in the area of human conduct may sometimes work itself out in human terms inadvertently; and yet still nonetheless through the course of human agency; but I say absolutely over the course of time and by way of life choices made by us in the course of nature – it ALWAYS works out.

By means of fixing on a single choice as a course of action we inevitably create for ourselves those multitudes of cul-de-sac alleys where there is for us no return to and no returns from; and which in the act of choosing we leave behind us as we close off their routes to what could have been, might have been, maybe sometimes what should have been; and which as alternatives might have developed into maybe more amenable and appropriate choices of direction for us?

Right now, as I look backwards, all such turnings and ‘roads less travelled’ which I opted against taking are wholly gone to me, into ‘the dark backward and abysm of time’.

As an empirical argument it remains impossible to anyone to verify the truth of many of these, my postulations. They are held on a precept of faith that goodness reigns and that life is directed as by a kindly hand.

I believe also that our lives are not unalloyed equal and opposite reactions to forces that are applying themselves to us. These reactions are, I contend, confusingly and mazedly mixed and intermixed with, what I guess to be an awful lot of ‘time and chance’ as The Preacher has it.

Nonetheless, I am convinced that a principle of nurture via Providential chastisement is strongly at work on men ands women in all things, and is even discernible by us in part, as it sits within and works among the tares and chaff of chance events. I believe moreover, it has an upper hand and is working over and above the world’s apparent confusion, so as to mould and confer on you the substantive person and character you have chosen to make yourself become.

‘Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, said the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness’.