Other people’s shoes, by Ben Jeapes

[Photo by Ingo Joseph from Pexels

I’m writing this 40 years and a day after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. On yesterday’s Radio 4 Sunday programme much was made of Archbishop Robert Runcie’s sermon at the celebration service in St Paul’s – even-handed, praying for the Argentines as well, and sending Margaret Thatcher’s blood pressure soaring into the stratosphere, even though every Forces person I have ever spoken to thought he got it exactly right. “There is mourning on both sides of this conflict … all those Argentine parents who have lost sons …”

It occurred to me that many of the Russians now dying in Ukraine are in exactly the same position as the Argentines sent into the Falklands. Young conscripts, lied to and sent into an unjust war by wicked, unaccountable men in pursuit of their own agendas, with no way of saying “no”. I very much hope that when all this is over, a modern-day Robert Runcie will pray for them and their parents too – and indeed we should include them in our prayers now.

But, I very much doubt Runcie set out to antagonize Margaret Thatcher, the red top papers and the rest of the uber-patriot brigade. There is absolutely nothing revolutionary in his sentiments. He was just being … you know, Christian.

Except that apparently some people didn’t know.

Maybe Runcie could have defused the situation with a little more context? He could have quoted Psalm 68:5: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Or, straight from the horse’s mouth (Jesus won’t mind being called a horse, I’m sure): “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

I’m sure those who wanted to be offended would still have been offended, but Runcie could have made their work a little bit harder and his actions a little easier to understand. People could have learnt that this isn’t just Christians being wishy washy and liberal as the media like to portray us. It comes from the top. We’re under orders.

For the first time I realised why so many prayers designed for public recitation include so much information that God already knows. “Almighty God, whose son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin …” Even a prayer like that has a missional purpose. We are educating the listeners.

I think it’s easy for Christians to forget just how counter-cultural our beliefs are. We say something perfectly ordinary; we get criticised; we tell ourselves to expect it because we were told the world would be against us. And it will always be that way. But perhaps, with just a little more putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, taking the time to find just a few more of the right words, we could reduce the hate and turn up the witnessing.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace. www.benjeapes.com


  1. Gosh, what a fascinating post. Yes, words are important aren't they? And taking a bit more time to listen to God and choose the right ones could make a world of difference. Hard to do at times (Eg when under pressure) but important. Thanks Ben.

  2. One of the best principle's of life in any venture[marriage,relationships,business,careers etc] is to put your self in other people's shoes. Lord Jesus tried to demonstrate that with the incident of throwing a stone at that lady.If we all look inwardly, we will understand one another better and treat others with respect and understanding. Great post. Blessings.

  3. "It’s easy for Christians to forget just how counter-cultural our beliefs are." Very good point, Ben. Thanks.

  4. And to remember to explain 'counter-cultural' to our readers - many will only understand these words as referring to the hippy, drug-culture of the 1960s - the 'negative counter-culture' as traditionalists would think. Let's think what, in terms of today's culture and culture over many decades and centuries actually leans towards... and define our terms... We aren't being 'old fashioned', in fact we are often being 'anti-traditional' (as Runcie was here).

  5. What a thoughtful post. I really enjoyed that


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