About Paul Burgis

Executive Principal of PLC Sydney

Les Miserables

Last night I went with our eldest daughter to see Les Miserables. It was a lovely Christmas gift to me from her and her husband. We went to dinner and then the show. I really enjoyed going out with her.

So much of this theatre I would hope to build into the culture of a family, of a neighbourhood, of a school.

Firstly, it is a production that respects its audience. It expects us to understand multiple plot lines that cover the breadth of human experience: political action, theological wondering and religious belief, personal romance, friendship, unrequited love. None is dismissed. Each is respected. It expects us to consider how they overlap and conflict, entwine and yet matter in and of themselves. With its music and song it expects us to be both aesthetic and ontological beings. I pray this for my family. I would hope any school of which I am a part would expect this of its students.

Secondly, it takes as a theme the importance for each of us of our outward and inward selves. When Plato retells Herodotus in The Republic he focuses on the tale of the Ring of Gyges. Gyges is a peasant who comes across the strange grave of an ancient king. He takes his ring: it gives him the power to become invisible. Using this power he is able to win over the queen, kill the king and usurp power. Plato’s point is that we each have a ring like Gyges’. We each have facades that we display in order to gain power. At minimum calculation, and at worst deceit, is the base of human consciousness. The wonderful thing therefore about Les Miserables is that the whole script in soliloquy. We are given direct access to the honest selves of the characters: the persons behind the masks. As humans we love this – we want the truth, not simply that which people tell us. The play is set up to reveal the truth about everyone: Marius’ love, Jean Val Jean’s anger, repentance and goodness, Epinome’s pathos at not having her love returned, Javier’s reliance on The Law, the comic couple’s duplicity and criminality and the revolutionaries’ zeal. The audience sees people how God sees them.I would like to build a school where we seek to build trust and honesty. The play recognises the challenge brought to us as humans in this endeavour- as Plato notices, we want justice for ourselves whilst maintaining the capacity to act unjustly if it suits us. Yet it also highlights how important trust is to us. Love, justice, grace: these themes draw us in. I would hope our schools would really value these things and not just leave students becoming clever at wearing the Ring of Gyges.

Thirdly, it is a play about prayer. Everyone prays.Javier prays that God will create a world of order and proper recompense. The corrupt couple shout a prayer at God in anger at his distance in allowing them to become villains. And Jean Val Jean prays a prayer of grace and sacrifice. He is willing to die himself if Marius can live. This beautiful prayer of the father for the son, of the mother for the daughter, of the present for the future, would be my prayer for my family, for our neighbours, for our students. That they might live. In every sense of the word that they might live.

And finally it is a play about redemption. Even though poverty remains, and its agony is not diminished; even though the Law that is meant to bring justice breeds criminality and despair; even though the human cost is great, there is redemption. To love another person is to see the face of God. And it is this internal change that matters. It matters that the individual learns to love. I would hope to be part of a family and to lead a school where people learn to love. And it is explicit and implicit in the script that we love because God first loved us.

So thank you Chelsea for taking me to see Les Miserables. It was, in your words, magnificent.

Conversations with my wife on the birth of our grandson

Our second daughter gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy yesterday.

On the way to the airport tonight to collect our first born daughter and her husband, my wife said that there had been a number of things that none of us would have chosen if we could have had the ideal birth for our daughter:

  • Our daughter’s waters broke at home before the contractions commenced properly
  • The baby turned quite late in the pregnancy to make the birth posterior
  • She was therefore in great pain for quite a few hours. Labour became slow and difficult.
  • She did need to have an epidural – something she had hoped to avoid
  • The baby had the cord around his neck
  • This stressed the baby and meant that he had meconium
  • The baby had to have suction applied quite quickly to assist the birth
  • The meconium had to be vacuumed out of his digestive and respiratory tracts as soon as he was born.

And yet, last night, none of this mattered because both mum and baby were great.

There were good reasons why the above complications did not ultimately matter:

  • Our daughter and her husband had an excellent doctor who made great choices at key moments
  • The hospital procedures were well established and worked very well
  • People have invested in the hospital, providing great equipment
  • Training has meant staff are confident in the use of equipment
  • The midwives were really supportive
  • Our daughter was calm and confident
  • Her husband was his usual very supportive self
  • Even though they are both university students, they invested in their own health and took responsibility for it
  • All of our families supported her with prayer and love
  • Our daughter keeps herself really healthy and well.

Susan and I could not be more grateful that all of the second list occurred, because it meant that the items on the first list – some of them life-threatening under other circumstances- were just challenges to be met and overcome.

People who care change the world. Physical, social and educational infrastructure matters. In a really good hospital there will be emergencies every single day. The infrastructure won’t limit the number of problems, but it will help to achieve good outcomes.

Thank you Prince of Wales Private Hospital. Thank you Dr John Grey, Dr Harris, Dr Chilton and midwives Lauren, Matalene and Claire.

 

 

 

The Narrow History Project

In the early 1990s I had the great joy of teaching history in Zimbabwe.

At that time the Zimbabwe dollar was still worth 25 Australian cents, there was optimism about ZANU PF and the leadership of Robert Mugabe, and the land was breathtakingly beautiful.

In the store room of my school were piles of decrepit history books, the remnants of an earlier period. They were written during the time when the nation was called Rhodesia, and a minority white population had announced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Within these books the Shona and Ndebele people were largely referred to as ‘labour’ and the history was constructed to tell the story of the success of the nation under white economic leadership. White rule equated to ‘stable government’, and thus to ‘the best outcome for all’.

On the desks in my classroom were the official ZANU PF histories of Zimbabwe. Within the pages of these texts were details of the rise of local African populations such as the Rozvi. They told the story of the struggle of the Shona and Ndebele peoples against ‘oppressive colonial rule’ and the final chapter of the second book was totally dedicated to ‘Mugabe the hero’, the ‘saviour’ of Zimbabwe.

It would be clear to any outsider that both sets of texts were terribly flawed. We thus had interesting classes comparing the descriptions of events and movements in both texts. In these comparisons we uncovered the many challenges that exist in the teaching of history.

Something within me loves The Big History Project. It is an attempt to put the whole story together, to tell the narrative of the history of our planet. Context is a very important thing for the historian. We can better understand events by developing a grasp of the cultures and decisions that preceded them.

But The Big History Project is like the Rhodesian and ZANU PF texts in my history classroom.

It is history told from one perspective.

I can hear the immediate rebuttal. No, that’s not true. The project purposefully allows for a variety of voices.

And that is accurate. There are many voices allowed.

But the overarching categories are established for the student. The basic metaphor for history, for example, is development. It is thus a socially progressive history and students are not alerted up front that not all historians see history this way. Religious and cultural traditions are reduced in importance whilst empiricism is promoted as a methodology. Philosophical positions such as Idealism, Monism and Dualism barely rate a mention. Physicalism is King.

This might not matter to the average Australian, but it should.

We swallow given categories in history all too easily. The current debate that the European Dark Ages were not really so dark, and that the Enlightenment was a not really so illuminating, is an interesting example of why categories matter. Terms carry assumptions. Accepted truths. Generations in Africa – and Australia -were taught that indigenous people were primitive. It is essential that students are taught to not simply accept categories.

The Big History Project is backed by the finances of Bill Gates. He has partnered with David Christian to create a brave new world of historiography for our classrooms. Now the Board of Studies in NSW is establishing a new subject based on this investment. Suddenly we wonder if the investor is writing the way we think.

Financial investment is quite enamouring. Well created websites are beautiful. They make the job of the educator easy.

Be trained by us. Just deliver the course this way.

I am all in favour of assisting students to think about the big picture. I am not in favour of Mr Gates or his academic favourites setting our curriculum.

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ as conceit

In schools we are trying to help young people to to develop the skills and desire to serve their communities. We hope they will avoid simple caricatures, and seek to develop a deep understanding of people’s histories, beliefs and motivations. We hope they will enjoy learning and take on the challenge of improving things in a sustained fashion. We hope they will be creative, and not conceited.

Ugly.

Matthew Vaughn’s latest film Kingsman: The Secret Service carries within it all that is ugly about the edges of Epicurean thought.

As I exited the cinema I had the overwhelming impression that the response I was supposed to have was that the director is really brave and clever. Violence used as a comic art form. Violence for the connoisseur. A redemptive Pygmalion of violence.

And the purpose of the film? Repeat after me: All admire Matthew Vaughn.

Perhaps in a world where we can now view real Isis violence online, or can conceive, oh too easily, that it might come from someone else’s ideology to our city, Vaughn might think that we need some violent catharsis in in our cinemas. Perhaps to help us cope. To relieve the stress.

Yet this film is a Hamlet of violence. There are so many people that the viewer is supposed to hate that the film just ends up equivocating about the value of being human altogether. Consider the various groups upon which one is permitted to lump one’s scorn:

  • Students of prominent British universities
  • Working class men
  • Middle American church goers
  • Politicians
  • Scandinavian social progressives

And, in the end, when the prodigal son saves the world by mass murder, his reward is (spoiler alert) anal sex with a princess. Well done Matthew! As the Principal of a school dedicated to building agency and equality: ‘thanks’ for depicting sexual power over young women’s bodies as the prize. Oh, and yes, she is blonde after all.

Yes there is a code of treating each other with dignity among the kingsmen. They are knights of the Round Table. In the first half of the film this notion shows lots of promise. But in my cinema the audience was silent during the carnage in the church. I felt like Vaughn wanted me to be entertained by Rwanda in the 1990s, like he was saying maybe the Hutu broadcasters of hatred had a point.

Contrast the actual approach of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda with the visceral ugliness of Kingsman.

I believe Kingsman is on the cultic edge of Epicureanism. In the West now a significant proportion of our television shows are about us living the good life: eating for flavour and pleasure, building for status and style, the pursuit of our happiness now.

We want to depict our little dramas over food choices and house building as worthy of large emotive responses. Let’s all cry when someone is voted out. These things are within our control. Our televisions show little of the world’s actual issues. Who has heard of the Assyrian Genocide? Who has heard of the Justice Mission? Poverty and exploitation are for occasional consideration on SBS.

Even with China’s growth, we know that only a relatively small portion of the world shares the possibility of this ‘good’ life. Thus we have huge issues world wide with immigration, violence and political instability. Vaughn’s answer: make a new art form that enables us to cope with the violence. Make the violence a form of entertainment.

And have the people the Director doesn’t like getting it in the neck. Don’t try to understand the huge variety of thought and contribution of religious people: just have them smash each other. Don’t appreciate the research coming out of Cambridge and Oxford – just vote them out of The House.

Yes, I know, I am reading it too literally. It is a farce. It makes fun of itself. The joke is on the person who watches it too seriously. The joke is on me.

That’s OK. Then I say I would love to see us creating art that firstly seeks to understand the bigger issues we face, and secondly, seeks to assist us to serve each other to address them.

Oh yes, and I recognise escapism has a place. But  Kingsman is a perverse escapism.

And finally, if there are ‘A’ List actors, doesn’t that mean that a chief purpose of the film is so that we can admire them? Doesn’t the choice to have them mean that the film is ‘OK’? Its values are mainstream. They are beyond the hatred ascribed to other groups. Where is the film where the ‘A’ list actors all slaughter each other for being greedy?

I confess to being angry about this film. Perhaps my response is what Vaughn wants. Better to get a response than to get boredom.

Well I won’t be rushing back to one of his films.

I have to conclude that Kingsman is really a form of filmic conceit. It creates us as a chattering class. Its purpose is to make us smug that we can be so clever as to create such art.

In that way it is the opposite of a good education. It creates caricatures, it has little to no nuance. It is its own admirer.

 

Moving Life

Last night Susan and I watched the film Still Life.

This morning our daughter is in the struggles and joys of childbirth.

The heroism in the film is the commitment of the man John May to his vocation. The film is beautiful in its quietness. May is persistent. Steadfast. Quietly but sincerely concerned with people -people who are invisible to the rest of the world. He sees his work as his joy.

The film doesn’t rely on socially established categories to communicate. It is not a pastiche about race or gender. If it is about class, it is first and foremost the story of an individual. It is about persons. Everyone in the film – though disconnected by choice or circumstance from others, though there are reasons to reject them, though they are squalid, though they are isolates – matters. May is the hero because he recognises this. He is the hero because he doesn’t give up on giving these people dignity even when others don’t afford him the same.

Today a little baby boy is coming into a family that loves him. Like thousands of others born today around the world he will have a family that loves him and wants to teach him to afford others respect and kindness.

His mother is loving him now, in her pain. And we are all loving her. Dr Gray is looking after her, affording our daughter dignity. He is confident for her.

There, where she is, no doubt there is a lot of noise. Movement. Action.

Here, where we wait, it is quiet. We are believing people now. I am astonished that birth happens this way. We wait and pray, thankful that a person with knowledge sees her as made in God’s image..

 

Thinking about Scep

At Sydney Technical High School in the 1970s there was a group of boys who were particularly ascerbic when it came to matters of faith.

Well before I came to my own Christian conviction, a now deceased friend with the surprising name of Ian Leake (think of the potential – I.Leake) taught me a few things about scepticism. His nickname was ‘Scep’. He was clearly a Christian, but was known to all by his capacity to make insightful comments and jokes about all aspects of life. Tellingly, he was sceptical about the ways that sceptics were sceptical.

This morning I listened to two members of the Sceptics Association speak on the ABC and I remembered Ian with great warmth.

Scepticism from the official group is now quite an art form. The two scientists today made a number of very reasonable statements. All educators would say ‘Hear! hear!’ They said that we need to be critical thinkers, that we need to know our methodology in our search for truth, that we need to ask questions. We need to differentiate between fact and belief.

But then came the subtle rhetoric. They created a clear dichotomy between two types of thinking: thinking based on beliefs and thinking based on Reason. And they positioned sceptics as in the minority, fighting nobly against all of the odd-ball thinking generated by religiosity and conspiracy theorists in the USA. Theirs is the good fight. Religious faith is on the dark side.

It was the questions that they didn’t ask that caused me difficulty. I note one.

Is it possible to hold a theory about the Universe that doesn’t rely upon beliefs?

Rightly or wrongly, I have reached the conclusion that it is impossible to comprehend the universe without an element of faith. And I am still to hear a person who relies only on Reason. I hold the position that a valid understanding of the universe must be able to describe both the observed universe and the qualities of the person doing the observing. The observer is ‘in the system’ so the theory that is purported has to have an explanation of how s/he came to be able to make her/his observations. This means that there must be a theory of Mind as well as a theory about the universe’s origins or sustenance or make-up. Philosophy and/or Theology must inform the debate – not just Science.

If I take the view that is most regularly presented by the Sceptics Association- that one should preclude from the outset that the Universe was caused by an Intending Being (or God) – I am left with an entirely physical universe. These ‘words’ are therefore the result of electrical impulses. Personal pronouns I use to describe myself emanate from the eternal chain of cause and effect. There is no teleology. My ‘me-ness’ is just a characteristic like the colour of a butterfly’s wing, or the size of a shark’s tooth. Therefore there is no reason to believe that what my eyes perceive, or ears hear, or mind reads, corresponds to actual reality. This is why some theorists speak of holding a cohesive, rather than a correspondent, view of truth.

Professor Karl this morning was black and white. He is on a pathway to a correspondent view of truth. Therefore, he must have snuck in the back of his mind somewhere an element of faith. For reasons that he hasn’t outlined, he believes the universe is fundamentally intelligible. He has faith that his brain’s electrical pathways, and there connectedness to his senses, can deliver truth to him. Even though the process that created each an every element of his genetics was constructed randomly.

One could say that scientific evidence builds collectively to give us assurance of truth. But Science changes in its sureties. Before Einstein we were confident in Newton. Before the Big Bang Theory many held to an Aristotelian universe without beginning.

Do not misunderstand my intent. The onward search and investigation of science is critical. I am pleased that materialist scientists challenge philosophers and theologians. But myriads of people, including theistic scientists, Platonic philosophers, post-structuralists and other will offer a reasoned and logical reply that has different categories to those on the ABC. They are not precluded from being logical or reasoned because they don’t share the Sceptics’ Association’s epistemology. Like my friend Scep what I object to is the lack of reference to the problematic nature of knowledge in statements like the one on the ABC today.

Scientism, whilst drawing on much excellent science, is a faith position.

On making deliberate choices

There are a billion ways to parent. I don’t presume to be able to say much to any parent. But I can note a few brief observations. As a principal I do meet many thousands of parents. And I admire much of their ‘work’.

My wife Susan reminded me today of a book we read together when our first daughter was born.

It was called ‘Raising Kids on Purpose’.

She said: ‘I can’t remember too much of what was in the book, but I think all I really needed to know was in the title.’

Both as a father and a principal I agree wholeheartedly with her. Parenting and educating are both deliberate acts. Thousands and thousands of deliberate acts. It is my experience that effective parents and teachers are those that have the capacity to continually make considered choices.

From age zero to age I don’t know what.

One of the privileges of being a principal is that I get to meet many very effective parents. I meet people who choose to enjoy their children’s company, who invest in discussions about life’s big questions with them, and who savour time introducing their children to this astonishing world.

And they are parents who aren’t driven by anxiety. ‘Fear,’ said the members of the religious order in the Herbert novel, DUNE, ‘is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that causes total obliteration.’ Or, in the words of Peter, Jesus’ disciple, ‘Perfect love will cast out fear.’ In my experience, fear pushes people to make poorly thought through decisions. It was fear of electoral loss that drove the power brokers of the Labor Party to ungraciously remove Kevin Rudd. It was more fear that put him back in power. Commentator Paul Kelly notes the panic in the ranks. He describes the Party as ‘weak, panicked and faithless.’

In my experience the effective parent is habitually not ‘weak, panicked and faithless’. She or he is considered and purposeful. Yes, they are reflective, willing to apologise for errors and to change a poor decision. Yet they have thought about what they are trying to do in their parenting and they trust in their long-term approach to parenting even as they experience difficult choices. And they remain faithful to their child and their values. They resist the temptation to depict themselves as a victim of either their child’s choices or the wider environment. They are always looking for options. The child’s choices belong to the child: their choices belong to them.

Parenting is a long term commitment. Errors are redeemable. There is always an option.

And they choose their words carefully.

And they are not slaves to things that are less than themselves: alcohol, money…

I write this short note as a recognition of the wonderful skills that many parents have. Our society is all the richer because of their investment of time and care.

 

 

 

Suddenly

I went to work this morning.

And so today began in its ordinary way.

Wrote a email.

Briefed the staff.

Held a meeting. Met the students with birthdays. Conducted an interview.

Felt a little unwell and told my P.A. I would drop in at the doctor.

Six hours later I have just woken up from an operation. All is good. It was quite a mechanical thing really: eminently fixable. No ongoing concerns. But it is still quite a surprise that I began the day with an email and ended it in a hospital bed.

It makes me think. The people on the news expect ordinary days. Then their sister goes missing. Or their son is in a car accident. Or they receive news from a distant capital city of a freak storm or a plane crash or a crazed gunman – and everything is radically altered. All of the best science, the most powerful rhetoric, the most ardent political activism won’t bring their loved one home. Won’t change the news.

On the way out of school today I passed on a message to a colleague. And I told her of my speedy exit to ready myself for tonight’s operation. She told me that she is looking after her elderly parents: cleaning their vomit; negotiating their tired verbal attempts to understand what happens next for them. She used the word ‘raw’ to describe her experiences.

It is her love that makes it raw.

There is a strange comfort in peeling away the pretence.

Once, when I lost control of a vehicle, and had to attempt at 80km/hr to undertake a hand brake 180 degree turn to stop the car – with no previous experience – with only the memory of watching the Holden stunt team do it at the Bathurst race track – I felt this strange peace. For a moment I saw death’s cold eyes. I remember saying to God that if this was it, then that was OK. I had young children and a fabulous wife, and I desperately didn’t want to go yet, but what could I do? Death be not proud. But I could not be proud either.

As I lay in the ante-chamber to the operating theatre tonight I knew that my daughters’ phone calls of best wishes each all had that slightly panicked tone – What happens if someone makes an error and my dad is not OK tonight? Of course I am part of the enormous statistical majority and am now sitting up comfortably in my bed. Death was not proud tonight. But, even in my trust in God and western medicine, I could not be proud either. I had no control.

When I stood beside my languishing father in Tweed Heads Hospital in December 1994, and held his hand whilst he breathed deeply, then paused for ninety agonising seconds before breathing again, I felt the suddenness. The loss of all control. This was a day that had begun ordinarily, before it brought out its nasty little surprise. My mother woke me that morning to tell me Dad had a headache. Could I drop down some tablets? Four exhausting hours later, after holding him on his bed whilst he lunged and pawed, gasped and jerked, I stood beside him whilst he breathed and then stopped breathing. It was raw.

Yet it was what it was. The truth.

The only thing that keeps me being human in the rawness of life is love. And much as I appreciate the study doctors have undertaken to fix me tonight, love is not explained by the science. The science only goes so far. The doctors who operate, love. Holding your convulsing father on a bed is an act of love. Cleaning his vomit is an act of love. Regretting the loss of a distant sister is an act of love. And God, not the sordid mechanical universe, is love.

 

 

But I really love being married…comments on ‘Gone Girl’

‘Gone Girl’ is a gripping film. Quite the farce. Its duplicitous characters act out their attraction and pain in a community that bases its raw emotional responses on the fickle and self-serving concerns of the media.

Yet when I exited the film I wanted to say to the other cinema goers ‘But I love being married’, as an act of affirmation of the trust I feel towards my wife even though the characters in the film generalise their agony to all those who are married. I wanted to rebel against its ‘farcical realism’.

The film could be seen as a parable on the dangers of trust.

Perhaps Ben Afflick plays both an ironic Christ and a deceitful Hamlet. It was Harold Bloom who claimed that Hamlet is the new Christ of literature. The West has replaced, in some of its literature, the man who acts out of sacrifice and love with the man who ponders his own fraught circumstance and then acts with equivocation and occasional senseless violence.

It is questionable if Afflick ever really ever loved his wife. Love itself is questioned as even being possible. There is lust, and insecurity and obsession. But does anyone love? Perhaps the twins do. Perhaps the policewoman. Any ultimate devotion Afflick has to his wife is proof that he has no virtue, no moral courage. It is in this that he is an ironic Christ. All he can do is ponder moral questions, and make vain and soul-sapping attempts at resolutions. It is in this that he is a deceitful Hamlet

And Rosamund Pike’s character leaves no justice, or even vengeance, to God. The pain she feels, she inflicts. She is victim and perpetrator, victim and perpetrator.

And as I watched the film, and found its narrative strength drawing me into it, enjoying its twists and moral pain, I found that I could not conclude that it was just a sophisticated narrative of the sins of the world. Yes, it delves deep into the ‘heart of darkness’ in both genders. It evangelises a misogyny and misandry at the centre of the human heart.  It smears away any pretense that the viewers might have that they can act with love of their own accord. It is a mirror to our own equivocation.

Is there therefore no redemption?

I note that if there was no artistic memory of the Christ that Afflick’s character is not, or no sense that love is possible (possible even in the sad milieu of their lives), then it loses its dramatic tension as a film.

Love remains extant.

And there is hope that the director thinks so too. I think again about the sister and the policewoman. Even the Defense Attorney. The policewoman is true to her vocation. The sister is true to her brother. The Attorney, whilst ostensibly chasing the dollar, believes in uncovering the truth. These are acts invoking justice and altruism.

Ironically, even in the heart of darkness, the idea that ‘God is love’ can’t be undone. It is out of the bottle.

And yes, despite my desire to rebel as I exited, I enjoyed the film.

Acts of Violence

I don’t know quite how we should approach the violence of ISIS.

ISIS feeds on violence.

Members are horribly violent to people who are identified as being against them: Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidi, Westerners…

We all know that there have been and are other such groups that act with terrible violence: Baader Meinhof in Europe, The Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, FARC in Latin America…

I read quite a bit of literature that seeks to tie a belief in violence to faith, or to non-faith, or to some noun somewhere. If I can just call them fundamentalists or rightists or leftists I will know they are not like me. And when I listen to people who commit acts of violence on behalf of an ideology I hear them using their belief system, or rage against a belief-system, to justify their actions.

Yet I am sure that within each group there are some who are not as committed to violence as their leaders and other members.  They are culpable, as Albert Speer was culpable. They are ideologically linked by their use of symbolic black flags or by their silence whilst atrocities are committed, but one day there might be a book or film like The Railway Man that helps us see them as human because it tells their story rather than the story of their movement.

This leads me to think that it is the act that we must find abhorrent. The act of massacring a group of people is abhorrent. Cutting off a person’s head is abhorrent. Lining people up against a wall and shooting them is abhorrent. We call them ‘crimes against humanity’. We call them ‘sin’ or ‘acts of evil’. The permission a person gives their conscience to initiate violence is an act against God and society.

They are choices.  It could be the rape of a young woman. It could be a Mafia revenge act. It could be a Mexican drug execution. It could be a bomb dropped on a neighbourhood.

There must be many people in places where violence rules who are not making this choice. There must be peacemakers, who, like some of the citizens of Missouri, go out onto the streets to try to tell the police and the violent protesters not to fight. We need to honour them and give them the headlines.

Yet I don’t think this helps us with ISIS. Whatever is wrong with Missouri, acts of violence are still seen as shameful by both sides. ISIS, in contrast, glorifies the pain of others, makes it into a grotesque form of public relations.

ISIS has really declared war on us all. Told us all we must become like them or perish.

We therefore must do all we can to stop ISIS and to support the Assyrian Christians, ordinary Muslims and Yazidi people. They are us, but they are stuck where ISIS thrives.