Category: Internet


AMDG

I’m giving an advent day of reflection in Gorton today – thought I’d share my reflection below

impatientHave you noticed how quickly technology moves from being a luxury to an essential …..  When Television was invented it for many years it was only to be seen in rich houses, but now we can’t imagine not having a television, often a large flat screen, digital …. So we moved from thinking about television as being a luxury , now it is a necessity.  The same is true about cars, computers,  mobile phones and now not just an internet connection but a fast connection. A modern problem is when can’t connect.  Our mobile phone signal is patchy – and we get angry and frustrated.   Our internet connection is slow and we start clicking the mouse furiously or open new tabs.  All of this incredible digital stuff wasn’t around 20years ago but now our expectations have been raised……    The digital revolution is speeding things up – but the result is this – we are in danger of losing the habit of patience and the practice of waiting…..  Advent is about waiting  ……waiting in hope and waiting in joy………. this is an important part of Christian life.

maxresdefaultThere is a beautiful image in scripture of the watchmen waiting for the dawn.  For millennia, before our scientific age, when we didn’t understand how our solar system operates – there was always this slight nagging uncertainty about would the sun rise again? Panic ensued during a solar eclipse.  In the far north when the Arctic Winter means a perpetual twilight for weeks – when the sun rises for the first time in weeks – communities go out to greet the rising of the Sun .  This is in image that John Paul II was fond of as we approached the third millennium – to be alert waiting for sunrise  – watchmen and women waiting for the dawn of new hope  that Jesus beings afresh every Christmas.  He often called us to be sentinels of the Gospel, turning our eyes to the future, we confidently await the dawn of a new Day… Quoting Isaiah he said “Watchmen, what of the night?” and we hear the answer: “Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy: for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion”…. “As the third millennium of the Redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity and we can already see its first signs.” May Mary, the Morning Star, help us to say with ever new ardour our “yes” to the Father’s plan for salvation that all nations and tongues may see his glory  (POPE JOHN PAUL II, Message for World Mission Sunday, n.9, October 24th, 1999)

downloadThis waiting is the heart of our prayer.  St Augustine says that God often doesn’t answer our prayers immediately because he is waiting for our hearts to grow so that we can receive all the graces he wants to give us.  Our hearts grow in that silent and joyful, patient ,waiting. So can we prayerfully wait in prayer this advent. Three suggestions – firstly draw closer to the Lord, come to mass more often ( if you are just a Sunday Catholic – than choose one day in the week you can come to) – you are guaranteed the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Secondly in adoration – the faithful silence presence in front of the Blessed sacrament  - there you hearts will grow,  remember that Promise that Moses gives in the book of Exodus (14) -  The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still, you only need to be silent.  Take all those distraction that prevent you from joyfully waiting – those worries, those wounds and lay them before the Lord in adoration. Thirdly watch and wait with the Rosary – praying your beads compels you to slow down – as you go round in a circle, That rhythm can become a rhythm of hope.  If you drive hang  your rosary  round the rear view mirror – when you are stuck in traffic – instead of getting angry or impatient take it down – keep a list of names of people you can pray for in the car…..

Remember advent is a great opportunity to slow down and rediscover the art of waiting and hoping and growing your heart in expectation.

AMDG

catholic-312A piece of news that might have passed you buy a couple of weeks ago is that the Vatican has secured control of  the .catholic domain name.  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which coordinates the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses around the world, is rolling out a new generation of new domain names such as  .party and .xbox, among others.  See the video below to see what TLGD’s (Top Level Generic Domains ) were available

I was hoping that I could be rebrand this blog – but I found out that the Vatican does not plan to allow individual bloggers or private Catholics to use “.catholic,”.  The domain will be limited to those with a formal canonical recognition: dioceses, parishes and other territorial church jurisdictions; religious orders and other canonically recognized communities; and Catholic institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals.  Paul Tighe who is the priest in charge of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication  says that .catholic will promote “a more cohesive and organized presence” of the church online, “so the recognized structure of the church can be mirrored in the digital space,”.

20120602_IRD001_0The politics behind ‘naming the internet is fascinating.  Saudi Arabia has entered an objection to the Vatican’s bid for a new “.catholic” internet domain. In an appeal to ICANN,  Saudi officials argued that the Vatican “cannot demonstrate that it possesses a monopoly over the term ‘Catholic.’” The information-technology commission of the Islamic kingdom claimed that other Christian groups, including the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, also use the term “Catholic.”  It wasn’t a specific attack on the Catholic church as the Saudi commission sent ICANN over 150 objections to proposed internet domain names, for a variety of reasons. It objected to any group being put in charge of web addresses based on religious terms. It complained about bids to create top-level domains for .islam, .halal and .ummah on similar grounds.They  also made moral complaints about an array of planned new suffixes. It objected to .gay because it “will be offensive” to societies where homosexuality is “contrary to their culture, morality or religion”, to .tattoo as tattooing is prohibited in Islam and Judaism and to .bar on grounds that because of its association with alcohol the term.

AMDG          (An edited version of this first appeared in yesterdays Manchester Evening News )

logoTwiplomacy‘ is the leading global study on world leaders on Twitter. With nearly 80% of presidents, prime ministers and leaders having a Twitter account – communication has never been so direct, theoretically it allows citizens access to their leaders.  Twiplomacy analyses how often leaders tweet, who they follow, how often they are mentioned, retweeted, listed etc.  You may be surprised that the most influential world leader according to them is @pontifex, Pope Francis. Although with over 10 million followers on his different language accounts (the Pope tweets in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, German, Arabic and of course Latin!) he is second to Barack Obama (35 million) – Twiplomacy deem him to be the most influential leader as he is retweeted the most (over 22,000 times a day – to Obamas 2,000).

Commentators are talking about the ‘Francis Effect’.   His simplicity, how comfortable he is in his own skin, his authenticity. He is not a man to be led around by bureaucrats, yes men, spin doctors or dubious “advisors,” but instead follows his own heart.  Most Catholics are amazed that his honeymoon period continues.  As a Jesuit I was quite anxious when he was elected Pope, it is like a member of the family becoming Prime Minister, you are waiting for the flak to start flying – now we are all quietly proud of the job he is doing. It is a breath of fresh air for many Catholics, used to a certain siege mentality and being mistrustful of the media. In a cynical world it seems as though Francis has become a symbol of hope for many – this is a guy who practices what he preaches.

pope-francis-tweetTwo recent lengthy interviews have been caused a great stir in Catholic circles.  The first one – to a consortium of Jesuit Journals including the British on-line journal Thinking Faith caused headlines when he criticised the careerism and the court around the Vatican.  The second interview was to an atheist and founder of the Italian newspaper La Republica. Perhaps most significant in this interview is when Francis talked about a mystical experience he had at the daunting moment of his election.  In his own words ‘I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the ‘”Habemus Papam”.  Some commentators have suggested that this experience may explain both his freedom and his boldness.

As the endless blogs, commentaries and analysis goes on of this remarkable papacy.  One thing is for sure – Pope Francis has the desire and the will to reach out beyond the comfort zone of believers to speak to the whole world – and he is an effective communicator.  For the record – here are some of my favourite quotes so far.

On not following the crowd ‘If you swim against the tide you get strong heart’

On the futility of materialism ‘You never see a removal van following a hearse’

On reform  ‘The church that lives in the sacristy gets sick’

On the environment  ‘Right now, we don’t have a very good relation with creation’

On Vanity ‘Look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth’

On Himself …“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.

Facebook & Status Anxiety

AMDG

This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments when I finish (14th)

Thumbs down.It was reported last week that Facebook spreads unhappiness (examples here and here).  Research in Michigan, US,  suggested using the site makes people less satisfied with their lives. This resonates with other research that claims Facebook usage increases feelings of isolation, jealousy and depression. It is not clear whether this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation… i.e. it is not facebook that causes isolation but rather those who feel isolated who are more likely to spend more time on facebook. However let’s remember the genesis of facebook, dreamed up in the dorms of Harvard, a high-pressure tank of adolescent insecurity, competitiveness and astronomical expectations. This was portrayed warts and all in the film The Social Network – and perhaps explains why  the architecture of Facebook Pages are often carefully designed to suggest a great and exciting life and therefore can be misleading.

status anxietyCould it be that Facebook is hyper-charging ‘status anxiety’. This idea came from a fascinating book of the same title by (atheist) philosopher Alain de Botton. Most unhappiness comes from this status anxiety and explains why the rich are often unhappier than those with much more modest lifestyles. Because we are always comparing ourselves to those who are one step above us on the wealth ladder. Rather than being satisfied with what we have, we become anxious because we don’t have as nice a car, as big a house etc as this or that friend. You can see how that works on facebook – X’s status updates/ photos indicate they are having a more exciting life than me. Look at his photo in a club surrounded by those beautiful girls whilst I am stuck at home (probably doing something much more interesting or fulfilling). Why has she got twice as many friends as me. So if you want to be happy – don’t fall into the trap of Facebook Status Anxiety!

By the way if you have read this through my facebook link and think it’s a bit hypocritical – my blog posts go onto facebook and twitter automatically. My policy with facebook is to ‘raid’ every week – get in and get out as quickly as I can – and do my business before I get sucked in…(honest) !!

Angry-Tweets-poster-finalThe amount of anger and hatred on Social Media is a growing concern.  Its seems that under cover of internet pseudonyms and often with a couple of glasses down their neck – normal mild mannered reasonable people can be turned into ranting nutters.  There is a law called ‘Godwins Law‘ named after an American Lawyer called Mike Godwin which goes something like this  “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”  this is otherwise known as Reductio ad Hitlerum. It seems that at times the relative anonymity of the internet is not conducive to rational debate.  A big news story in the UK is how the first paid ‘Youth Police and Crime Commissioner’ career has ended before it began because of the hate filled comments she posted on Twitter.

hater-social-media-app-lets-you-dislike-things-1

 

As Pope Emeritus Benedict said ‘ Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others‘ (World CommunicationsDay 2011).  It is sad therefore to see how the Catholic presence on the internet seems to be dominated by shrill, inward looking and judgmental voices.  Many students have come to see me slightly bewildered by the attack made on Jesuits since Pope Francis’s election – sadly many of the most vicious attacks come from supposedly ‘orthodox’ voices.   Pope Emeritus Benedict was aware of this when he warned of a ‘parallel’ magisterium being set up on the internet   There also seems to be a correlation between the amount of posts per day some of these bloggers put up and how ‘detached’ from the real world they are. Simply put – if they could only spend more time meeting real people, then maybe they would become more compassionate, instead of being fixated on an distorted view of orthodoxy that they often use to hit their own bishops and the Pope with.

We need more moderate voices on the internet – otherwise those who shout the loudest – often from a cowardly or paranoid anonymity are over influencing the debate.

As today’s Gospel says

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, Californ...

The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, California. Photographed on August 5, 2006 by user Coolcaesar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was fascinated to read that Ebay has recently banned the selling of spells, curses, hexes, magic, prayers, potions and healing sessions from its website.  Ebay – the virtual marketplace – is a capitalists dream.  Never has there been a market place with so many dimensions, with millions of items for sale worldwide.  The range of ‘ items are’grouped into more than 40,000 main and sub-categories, and cover everything for instance, a finger painting in real chocolate pudding by two-year-old Corbin, who is hoping to raise enough pocket money to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom or a nifty black Ferrari 360 (starting at $150,000). Never before has there been a market with such abundant dimensions.  But it seems that even the free market has limits!

I think it is foolish to dismiss the paranormal, but also wise to protect the vulnerable from crass exploitation. There is a fine line between this type of exploitation and that of more reputable mainstream religions.  A slightly alarming development in Christianity over recent years has been the rise of the ‘Gospel of Prosperity’ mainly in Pentecostalist circles.  Something that impresses me about Pentecostalism is its ability to help people who are struggling ‘sort their lives out’ particularly in a poor urban context, and the creative ways many Pentecostalists put their faith into practical action and help transform communities and add to the common good. However what is a distortion of the Gospel is this idea that God will bless you financially if you donate generously to the pastor. Apart from obviously being open to corruption, it is this fusion of personal empowerment / self help which I think ultimately leads to a consumerist narcissism as opposed to the radical self-giving which is at the climax of the Gospels, and Jesus’s stress on servant leadership.  This distortion of Christianity is proving very popular in Asia, especially in South Korea which now has the biggest ‘church’ in the world in Seoul.

Interestingly eBay’s simple online system relies to an extent on the fact that most people are basically honest. But as the market grows in value, it inevitably attracts more rogues.  The first line of defence in online trading is eBay’s feedback profile, which is in effect the online reputation of both buyers and sellers. When any transaction is completed, both buyers and sellers are invited to rate how successful it has been, and leave a review. These reviews can be read by all users.  Many of the traders on eBay have come to value their reputations greatly, and those with enough positive-feedback scores are allowed to participate in buyer-protection schemes, which offer refunds. As far as religion goes – reputations are forged or destroyed at a much slower rate, over thousands of years.

AMDG

The student paper here, The Mancunion, claims to be the biggest student paper in the country.  Generally speaking it is well produced and well written.  It is also invaluable for me to read at the moment as I am still getting my feet under the desk. A lot of student politics can tend to tiresome and the debates a bit shrill, but outside of that it is an enjoyable read.  I was fascinated to read an article last week about the popularity of a Manchester University Facebook page  which is ‘for students to write about the deepest secrets and most outrageous stories’ .  Called .‘University of Manchester Confessions’ it was started over a week ago and encourages students to anonymously write  “hilarious, embarrassing confessions,” to then be posted. Among the submissions are tales of sexual debacles, alcohol-infused blunders and halls of residence pranks. Evidently this is all the rage in uni’s up and down the country, tapping into a trend for public confessional culture which is generally for entertainment purposes and normally harmless. However we do know that occasionally vulnerable people are exploited, and do things for their 5 minute of fame which they regret for the rest of their lives – a la Gerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle (in the UK)

I was fascinated by this – partly because we are right across the road from the Union and the Mancunion’s offices.  And in the Holy Name church we have 120 confessions a week, many of them students.  The contrast is quite striking.  The healing that can go on in the confessional is very powerful, quite frequent and an honour to witness as a priest.  But that private sacred confessional is in contrast to the trend of public confessional. The generation of undergraduates spend a huge amount of time in a virtual road – where the private is being abolished.  As Google and Facebook have admitted we live a new world where Silicon Valley has given up on privacy. They see this abolition of privacy as a mission to change the world. As Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook said they are capitalising on three trends — First, a trend “from anonymity to authentic identity”. Secondly, a trend from “wisdom of crowds to wisdom of friends” and third, a trend “from being receivers of information to broadcasters of information”.  

I am concerned about this – as I am not sure that this is as healthy as these huge companies think it is.  Students are vulnerable and use social media unwisely at times.  I though it might be good to write a reflection for the Mancunion compare public and private confessional culture. I emailed the editor and offered this too him – as of yet – no response ………….

Digital Vertigo

AMDG

The Internet needs ‘saving’ from its current direction or we are heading into a digital nightmare of radical transparency and exhibitionism.  This was the basic theme presented at a fascinating discussion at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday evening as Andrew Keen was promoting and discussing his new(ish) book ‘Digital Vertigo’ .  Keen, now in his early fifties, is one of the pioneering generation of digital entrepreneurs who is expressing alarm at the direction the internet is taking, with particular criticism for Facebook, he warns us that we are entering an age of unprecedented exhibitionism, which will be damaging for many. Most of us in the audience were Digital Immigrants (i.e. we remember life before the internet!) unlike the younger generation of Digital Natives who will feel the full force of the agenda to socialise the internet.  According to Keen, Silicon Valley  has written off privacy as being something archaic.  My experience in recent years of working as a chaplain and a teacher was how important it is to encourage my students to use Facebook / Twitter / You Tube prudently.   They need to realise that by putting, drunken, half-naked photos onto social network sites they are making themselves hostages to fortune.  The world is assessing our identity by what we leave online and the internet doesn’t forget!  Future employers will be very interested in finding out as much as they can about who they are about to invest in.

 

Andrew Keen – a weary wisdom

Reflecting on the stimulating evening, I couldn’t help thinking about the idea of ‘structural sin’.  Facebook / Google claim that they are providing a public good, they are trying to change the world and there is a lot of powerful evidence that there is some truth in that (Arab Spring, Charity Fundraising, Linking Isolated communities).  However there is a lie at  the heart of the agenda,  Facebook is making huge amounts of money at selling our private data to companies, it is a profit driven organisation not a public good.  It seems to me that this exploits the worst vulnerabilities of adolescents as they attempt to build a circle of friends,.  As we all know, as we are growing up we make mistakes, we experiment with who we are we, what we stand for.  My generation of Digital Natives are fortunate because those mistakes, the embarrassing things we did or said were done in private and are forgotten about.  The internet does not forget and therefore (as the point was made excellently yesterday) can’t forgive.  If the internet doesn’t learn to forgive it will be a dystopia – rather than the utopia that the first wave of internet entrepeneurs envisaged and hoped for.

Yes you can live without Facebook!

The final thing I have found myself reflecting on is what was said about ‘confessional’ culture.  Little did Andrew Keen know that sitting in the audience was a Catholic Priest who had spent nearly 2 hours in the confessional this weekend. It seems that as we are a city-centre church people come from all over Edinburgh to use the confessional here, I have found it a vibrant and very consoling ministry.  But that private confession, one to one, with the inviolability of the seal, has a profoundly healthy and healing dynamic. The confessional, ‘all out there’ culture, cheered (and jeered) on by reality TV, Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle, is damaging and exploitative, and as more of us live ‘on’ line there is a danger that we become more self-revelatory.  This pressure towards inappropriate self-disclosure must be resisted, otherwise we are ultimately being made fools of (like Scotty in Hitchcock’s Vertigo hence the title of the book). So thank you Andrew Keen –  I found him full of a weary wisdom, but feel his analysis is important, pragmatic, and he probably wouldn’t like this but redolent with a disguised and reluctant compassion.  I am going to buy his book!

 

 

AMDG

I remember doing my teacher training degree in the UK – and our course was being inspected by the government.  Part of the inspection was to observe us (the student-teachers) teaching in our placements.  I was observed teaching a religion lesson in a totally secular school in South London – where religion was at best a curiosity.  Of a student body of 1200 – the RE department had one teacher!!  Religious Education was tolerated – if not exactly encouraged. The student body generally matched the official apathy of the school – with one or two exceptions.  So my job was to win hearts and minds and stimulate interest.  I decided to teach a lesson on Religion on the Internet – asking the students to find out which ‘celebrity’ had the most listings on Google.  Beckham? No (159million).  Lady Gaga? No (500million). Obama (745million) – The answer was of course Jesus (847million).

I suppose the point is a serious one.  Religious believers (and fanatics! and bigots!) are very quick at adapting new technologies to promote their messages. It is easy to identify key moments in the development of communication technology.  Ancient writings moved from tablets – to scrolls – to books due to the invention of the Codex by Romans.  But it was the Early Christians spreading the Gospels and the Bible that made the Codex popular. Then of course came the Reformation and Gutenberg’s printing press – the innovation of movable type made mass printing of leaflets, pamphlets and of course the Gutenberg Bible feasible. Jump forward a few centuries and Marconi – the inventor of long distance radio – wanted to personally introduce in 1931 the first radio broadcast of a Pope, Pius XI, announcing at the microphone: “With the help of God, who places so many mysterious forces of nature at man’s disposal, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will give to the faithful of the entire world the joy of listening to the voice of the Holy Father”  And then Thomas Doherty claimed in an oft repeated phrase that Golden Age Hollywood was “a Jewish-owned business selling Catholic theology to Protestant America.”

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the proliferation of religious content (of varying quality and accuracy) on the internet.  I particularly enjoy some of the creative video clips – which are great for use in schools / assemblies  / talks or even introducing prayer. One I was sent via twitter today:

See it without the water mark at this external link

You may well have seen this already by the excellent Igniter Media (also check out their Social Media Christmas)

And finally how about this for lapsed Catholics

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