Ivan Lewis MP
We had a great evening at the chaplaincy on Friday Night – as the Faith and Politics series of evenings came to a climax. With 4 guests, 2 current MP’s, a former MP and a prominent Catholic Journalist. What was very striking was how positive the energy was, and it is important to remember how much we can achieve when we are looking outwards rather than inwards. It is an unhealthy community that splits into factions and rows and gossips about ‘internal matters’ whether dogma or politics. A dynamic attractive community is one that puts its faith into action, helping and engaging with civil society. First up on Friday was Ivan Lewis MP, who talked about his Jewish identity and upbringing, and his passionate defence of faith schools. Currently the Shadow Secretary for International Development, we had moved his talk forward as he left us to go straight to the airport to fly to Burma and meet Aung San Suu Kyi.
Talking about Faith and Politics from a liberal Jewish perspective it was interesting to hear him talk about the need for integration not assimilation – with an implicit critique to ‘assertive secularism’. He argued that a good faith school gives you a strong identity which allows integration. Compare this to Dawkin’s absurd claim that faith schools are a form of child abuse. It resonated with me when Mr Lewis said that the lack of a sense of identity was a big problem with young people. Interestingly this is something I have been pondering recently – especially a phenomenon I see more and more as the Digital Age allows people to experiment with multiple identities. Although there is a sort-of freedom in this, ultimately the lack of a deep-rooted identity, especially the experimenting with conflicting identities which on line anonymity allows, often leads to bullying and abuse – and also a vulnerability to being buffeted by the shrill winds of consumerism and ‘lifestyle agendas’.
The other MP – Paul Goggins, in contrast shared about how his identity had been shaped at Manchester University – particularly through experiences are working with disabled children through L’arche. This ethos of service was rooted in his faith – and I am delighted he mentioned this as we were invited at yesterdays evenings mass to get involved with the Manchester L’arche community that is opening. My next post will be about the other two guests on a memorable night!
Lovell Telescope, Jodrell Bank Observatory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two alumni of Manchester who seem to be high-profile but are now sadly dead are Alan Turing and Bernard Lovell. Turing. mathematical genius, code-breaker extraordinaire, is widely considered to be the father of computing science and artificial intelligence. Designing the first model stored-program computer, he worked on the innovative Manchester Computers project which lead to the development of the first commercially available general purpose computer the Ferranti Mark One. It is an incredible legacy as arguably computers have been the most significant technological advance in the modern age. Bernard Lovell, sadly died a few weeks ago. A visionary physicist – his top-secret work on magnetrons during the WW2 helped Allied bombers spot submarine periscopes and Hitler blamed a major naval setback on his inventions. During this work he spotted other strange stuff – emitting radio frequency waves – cosmic rays perhaps? so after the War he set up the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope in Cheshire to find out. The worlds biggest steerable radio telescope, its spiralling costs and need for electromagnetic silence (thus blocking local development) led it to be called ‘Lovell’s folly’ – and he was staring bankruptcy and public hostility in the face. Until the space race started and the launch of the Russian Sputnik sattelites. When it became obvious that the only place in the world that could track them was Jodrell Bank – overnight he became a hero again!
Importantly for our work in the Chaplaincy is also his interest in questions of science and faith. A committed Christian, and organist in his local parish church, St Peter’s, Swettenham, for 40 years, with the big questions he believed cosmology must give way to metaphysics. This is important for me as we are developing a Faith and Science group here in Manchester. It is striking how many of the students who come into the chaplaincy are scientists. Talking to them it is clear that they find it increasingly difficult to talk about their faith openly with scientific colleagues, or in a science lab. We would like to counteract that by developing a thriving Faith and Science community here – with a specialist library, lectures. It may be that we will have an annual lecture named after Bernard Lovell. It is a shame that due to the aggressive and intolerant atheism of people like Dawkins, the wise, gentler voices such as Lovell’s seem to be drowned out. The Lovell Telescope will now be the nerve centre of what will be the world’s biggest telescope, the multinational Square Kilometre Array. But until his recent death Bernard Lovell remained modest about the limits of its discoveries. In his 90s he said he had never in his life been “faced with so many unanswered questions as now”. And in his final Reith lecture he sketched out wise and telling parameters for faith and science when he said:
I am no more surprised or distressed at the limitation of science when faced with this great problem of creation than I am at the limitation of the spectroscope in describing the radiance of a sunset or at the theory of counterpoint in describing the beauty of a fugue.
Today is the beautiful feast of All Saints and the students here have come up with a beautiful way of marking it – with the first of our monthly all-night adorations. Aside from the mass this seems to be one of the best ways to mark the feast of all saints. There seems to be a link between Adoration and sharing in the Beatific Vision – we believe saints are in the presence of God, which is beyond our understanding, but has something to do with the most powerful force in the universe, that of Divine Love. Rowan Williams the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, explained this the other week in much more eloquent words. Making history by being the first Anglican Primate to address a Vatican Synod. Although this happened three weeks ago I have been pondering his words since then, building on the theological anthropology of French Jesuit Henri du Lubac he said some beautiful things that are worth treasuring and meditating on .
To be fully human is to be recreated in the image of Christ’s humanity….. in his relationship to the Father… a relationship of loving and adoring self-giving, a pouring out of life towards the Other….. this is a contemplative humanity… that selfless attention to the Other that brings not death but life to the self. All contemplating of God presupposes God’s own absorbed and joyful knowing of himself and gazing upon himself in the trinitarian life. To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts. With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow. And the face we need to show to our world is the face of a humanity in endless growth towards love, a humanity so delighted and engaged by the glory of what we look towards that we are prepared to embark on a journey without end to find our way more deeply into it, into the heart of the trinitarian life.
The rest of his address can be read here – and it is well worth your time, even worth printing it out as I have done for material for prayer. The stunning tapestries (click here) in the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Angels in LA are beautiful representation of the Saints in adoration. Why not join us in the chaplaincy in Manchester tonight – as we hold a vigil of adoration on this feast of All Saints, 9pm-9am.