“Who else has ever invited Charles de Foucauld, Margaret Thatcher, Philip Pullman and Nick Cave to the same party?” The Compassion Quest’s first month

I’ve just been proofreading my new book Real God in the Real World, due out in September as the official BRF Advent Book for 2013. It reminded me that I hadn’t updated my blog post about reviews of my most recent book The Compassion Quest… so, here it is (see above), a blog-post initially posted a month ago, which I have now adapted to include new details of reviews from a number of blogs and publications. Hope you enjoy reading them!

Trystan Owain Hughes

I will post a “proper” blog-post very soon, but I just wanted to update you on The Compassion Quest. It’s been nearly 4 weeks since it was published, and sales for the book have, in the first month, already surpassed sales of my first book Winds of Change, published nearly 14 years ago now. Thanks for all your support! Reviews have been great, with 11 reviews on Amazon (nine giving 5 stars and two giving 4 stars), a number of very positive reviews in blogs (including from poet and author Gerard Kelly), and a very good review in Christianity magazine.

Here are some of the comments in the reviews, with links: (NB I have updated these to include also more recent reviews)

“Very readable book… [Hughes] writes with compelling passion and authority. 4 out of 5 stars” (Christianity magazine)

“Highly readable style… The writing is fast-paced but has…

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“Everything terrible is something that needs our love”: Some thoughts on Margaret Thatcher and compassion

idealismLast week, I posted an interview that a prominent law blog had conducted with me on the subject of “Compassion and Crime”. I suggested that, however difficult it is, we are called to show compassion to all. Largely, the responses I received were positive, but one or two were angry and vitriolic, suggesting that some criminals were beyond redemption and, for people such as the recently-convicted Mick Philpott, the question of capital punishment should be reconsidered in the UK. I would be the first to admit that my theology is idealistic, utopic even, but surely all Christians are called to idealism. Why else do we cry ‘thy Kingdom come’ each time we pray the prayer Jesus himself taught us? As Reinhold Niebuhr put it, the Kingdom is all about ‘the relevance of the impossible ideal’.

leastWhile I would embrace the term idealistic, the uncompromising challenge of the incarnation is clear. It’s not only about recognising Jesus in people that we get on with, in our friends or our family. The real challenge of the incarnation is something we Christians are called to live with, often uncomfortably, every day of our lives. This is the challenge for us to recognise Jesus in everyone. As the parable in Matthew 25 puts it: “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’”. In other words, we are even called to serve “the least of these” as if we were serving Jesus himself. This demands that we recognise Christ in even the most needy, the most corrupt, the most depraved, the most lost, the most wretched, the most hated. As Rainer Maria Rilke put it, recently quoted by Colin Farrell in the film London Boulevard [2010]: “everything terrible is something that needs our love”. That’s a huge challenge. Christian love is certainly not unrealistic. In fact, it is very often all too realistic, as it recognises that the path of compassion is also the path of crucifixion.

An American friend of mine, Ben Irwin, wrote a thought-provoking blog post this week, reflecting on the untimely death of pastor and author Rick Warren‘s son. He notes that St Paul makes a similar challenge to Matthew 25 in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 12, St Paul urges us to mourn with all those who mourn and to bless those who persecute us. Although my friend’s post was written before Thatcher’s death, both Matthew 25 and Romans 12 hold a particular challenge to us all this week.


I personally found Margaret Thatcher’s policies detestable, not least because many of them go against what I hold to be the Christian ideal. Still, I know that I am called to recognise Jesus in everyone and to show compassion to all, especially those who grieve and mourn. Likewise, those who see the positive in Thatcher’s legacy should equally be challenged to show compassion towards those who suffered, and still suffer, as a result of her policies and towards those who continue to protest against her legacy. As my friend concluded his post:

“St Paul wasn’t just talking about how we treat other Christians, those who think exactly like we do, or those we find it easy to like. We bless, we rejoice, and we mourn with any and all, because we believe that no one is beyond redemption. We believe that no one is beyond God’s love. It’s not easy to mourn with those we dislike. But perhaps the true test of our willingness to follow Jesus is not our ability to grieve at the suffering of our friends, but at that of our enemies. So today, I will grieve with Rick Warren. But I’ll be honest and I’ll admit that it’s easy for me to do so. It’s easy to grieve with those whom I like. So I will also pray for the strength to grieve with my enemies when they stumble or when they suffer loss.”

Jesus-in-the-breadlineAnother sad passing this past week has been that of Brennan Manning, the author of the wonderful The Ragamuffin Gospel which has had a profound influence on many of us. I’m quite sure he won’t be getting an ostentatious, ceremonial funeral. We would do well, however, to remember this week, and every week, his aim of trying to see grace in every situation. “What makes a genius?”, he wrote. “The ability to see. To see what? The butterfly in a caterpillar, the eagle in an egg, the saint in a selfish person, life in death, unity in separation, God in the human”. He might well have added: “Jesus in everyone”.

For more on this theme, see chapter 4 “Bringing Jesus Down to Earth” in The Compassion Quest.

Crime and Compassion: Does Mick Philpott deserve any compassion?

Certainly the crime committed by Mick Philpott, Mairead Philpott, and Paul Mosley was utterly deplorable and horrendous. The judge in the trial, Mrs Justice Thirlwall, concluded that the plot to set fire to the Philpott’s house and to rescue their six children was “a wicked and dangerous plan”, which was “outside the comprehension of any right-thinking person”. The tragic consequence was the death of six innocent children.

media-general-newspaper-images-3However, the reaction of some sections of the press and the media to the perpetrators of this crime leads us to consider whether “evil Mick Philpott”, as much of the press have now rechristened him, deserves any of our compassion? This question brought to mind an interview that I recently gave to a blog about the legal system in the UK. I am, therefore, posting below some of the questions posed by the The Law Map, a blog for people in the legal profession, and the answers I gave:

TheLawMap: Should the need for compassionate living require a more compassionate justice system? How could this be achieved?

At the core of a compassionate justice system is the way that we as individuals view those with whom we come into contact, whether they are victims or perpetrators. As such, the process of compassion must be one of recognising our common humanity with each other, and taking seriously the backgrounds that others hail from.

Compassion is certainly not a case of allowing people to avoid “justice” or letting people “get away with it”. Still, we should never forget that people are not open books. Situations, traumatic upbringings, and backgrounds are not always apparent to us, and so we should take care not to judge others directly on what we do see them do, how we see them act, or on what others tell us about them.

Dredd 1In the recent Hollywood film Dredd [2011], Judge Dredd is stopped from implementing the death penalty on an individual when his psychic sidekick is able to reveal the abuse and humiliation to which the character had been subjected. Life is not like a superhero blockbuster, but our role is still to take seriously the paths, often relating to broken childhoods, that people have trod.

Too often our politics, legal system, and especially the press want to separate people into saints and sinners. Compassion, though, demands from us a recognition that our inclination towards good and bad is, very often, related to suffering in our past. As such, we have to face the reality that if we had the same genes and the same upbringing as others, there is a good chance that we would be acting the same way. That is a huge challenge to the way that we as individuals, as well as every part of our society, including the legal system, treat other people.

The Law Map: Are there individuals locked in correctional facilities who could be beyond compassion & should compassion be the basis of a penal system that reflects the pain and suffering of the victims?

Certainly, the pain and suffering of victims should never be devalued, as our love and care towards them is paramount. But compassion towards the victim and the perpetrator are not mutually exclusive. As such, no one is beyond our compassion. After all, compassion challenges us to recognise our common humanity with all, even convicted criminals.

A few years back I took a group of students to a former Nazi concentration camp. At one point, as we all stood silent in the midst of our thoughts of the horrors the prisoners had faced, one student said: ‘imagine if we had been one of the guards here’. At that moment, it dawned on me that, yes we could have been one of the prisoners, but we equally could have been one of the oppressors. We are so used empathetically to putting ourselves in the shoes of the oppressed, that we forget that the oppressors are also human, just like you and me.

MirrorHowever heinous we regard the actions of others, our call should always be towards compassion. The sickening actions of Myra Hindley were clearly abhorrent. However, the reaction of our society after Hindley’s death reveals how little self-awareness we have of the capacity for the most horrendous evil, as well as the greatest good, that is present in us all. The Sun exclaimed that ‘Myra the Devil’ would never be forgiven, The Daily Mail bemoaned the fact that she had a peaceful death, while The Daily Express’s front page headline simply read ‘Go to Hell, Myra’.

The temptation is certainly to demonise offenders and regard them as ‘different’ from us and our loved ones. By doing so, we are led to believe that reform, redemption, and restoration are naïve and implausible. We, therefore, separate and stigmatize those who act in ways that go against our moral codes.

Beasts Of Southern Wild poster review

In my own Christian tradition, Jesus Christ certainly held a rich concept of justice, but he also clearly held that nothing or no one was beyond redemption. His love, acceptance, and compassion had no boundaries, a fact that even many parts of the Church today fails to live out. The recent film Beasts of the Southern Wild [2011] beautifully summarised the concept that our common humanity challenges us to show care for even the most broken and lost souls: “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, then the entire universe will get busted”.

The Law Map: Does the technologically interconnected nature of modern living allow us to be more compassionate and concerned about human rights issues across the globe?

At the heart of life is relationship. We are as a species utterly dependent on each other. The French Cistercian monk Charles de Foucald suggested a concept of the ‘universal brotherhood’. In other words, all of us are intimately connected as one large family and should treat each other with this in mind. As Desmond Tutu put it: ‘I hope we can accept a wonderful truth – we are family! We are family!”

Mick-Philpott-on-Jeremy-Kyle-Show-1798447Yet, in our everyday lives, we often revel in our separation from each other. Television shows such as The Jeremy Kyle Show and The X Factor, for example, fail to recognise our unity and common humanity, but instead rejoice in our dissimilarity with those whom we are watching. We almost delight in the rejects of these shows, and enjoy the feeling that we are so very different to them. Our enjoyment at the appalling vocal performances of early contestants in the auditions for The X Factor, or the poorly spoken guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show, help to make us feel better personally, but always at the expense of the weak, powerless, or ignorant.

One might think that the technologically interconnected nature of modern living would help us feel more connected with the world around us, but, in fact, in many ways it serves to distance us from others. In our workplaces, we don’t have to see people face-to-face these days, or even chat to them on the phone, but we simply fire a quick email away to them. With regards to the law, this detachment from others has led to a new kind of criminal activity. Internet crime is the ultimate faceless disconnection, where the perpetrators do not have to look us victims straight in the eye when they carry out their crimes.

IMG_0215On the other hand, technology has been at the forefront of liberating social change, as shown in the prevalence of social media during the Arab Spring uprisings, and it is also helping to highlight the centrality of compassion and compassionate actions in our daily lives. Movements like the Charter for Compassion, Compassion It, Compassion International, Compassion in World Farming, and Compassionate Action Network themselves utilise technology either to advocate concern and care for the environment, human rights, and issues of poverty, or to simply to urge people worldwide to practice compassion in their everyday lives. ‘I know we are all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference’, muses Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt [2002]. He then asks two questions that all of us, whether we are working in the legal profession or not, should ask ourselves as we reflect on our lives and careers thus far: ‘What kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?’

For the full interview, please visit The Law Map.

See also Chapter 6 of The Compassion Quest.

The most important thing in life? New video for “The Compassion Quest”

A short video for The Compassion Quest. Hope you enjoy it.

A big thank you to Christopher Frost, ordinand at St Michael’s Theological College, Llandaff, Wales for producing, editing, & directing the video. Also thank you to Gwynan Hughes, who composed & performed the music.