Category: Internet


AMDG

Amazon.com arguably is changing the world now more than Google or Facebook.  The online retailer is now more akin to a conglomerate, having long left behind just being a place to go and buy books. Now it is the world’s leading provider of cloud computing, this year it will spend twice as much on television as HBO, a cable channel, and developing its own range of Amazon-brand physical products including batteries, almonds, suits and speakers linked to a virtual voice-activated assistant.  This last product, Alexa, has a ‘must-buy’ buzz around it, many of my friends got it for Christmas. Alexa can control, among other things, your lamps and sprinklers, ‘she’ is your own digital personal assistant. However, before I start pontificating about the technological dystopia we are heading into, at least we can acknowledge that Alexa has some theological literacy as this great story shows.

Of course, the ‘tech-lash’ is just beginning, with grave concerns about Amazons growing dominance, it being both marketplace and retailer has an anti-competitive feel about it, and its ability to steamroll future regulators is worrying.  However more than the other tech giants, I think to understand Amazon you look no further than its intense bordering on sociopathic founder.  One of the most disruptive companies, it has been dreamt up and run by one of the ‘disrupters in chief’ Jeff Bezos. It’s revealing that the original name he dreamed up for his company was Relentless.com, in fact if you put that into Google you are taken directly to Amazon.   That one word, relentless, says something about Bezos that explains his success but also sums up something about his unsettling dark side.

I have recently finished reading a fascinating book, ‘The everything store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon‘.  The author Brad Stone has done a good job portraying the strength of this character – his unbounded drive and ambition, his unnerving search for truth at whatever expense. Stone recounts one incident which sums this up and is chilling and compelling. He describes how Bezos publicly humiliated one of his senior execs by calling Amazon’s number during a team meeting, in front of his colleagues, to check the man’s assertion that its phones were being picked up promptly. “Bezos took his watch off and made a deliberate show of tracking the time. A brutal minute passed, then two … Bezos’s face grew red; the vein in his forehead, a hurricane warning system, popped out”

What I found most poignant about the book was the narrative around his two fathers. His biological father was a circus unicyclist, Ted Jorgensen, who abandoned his mother when he was only one. His stepfather was a Cuban-American Miguel Bezos who was rescued from Cuba by a scheme sponsored by the Catholic Church, ‘Operation Pedro Pan’.  From December 1960 to October 1962, more than fourteen thousand Cuban youths arrived alone in the United States, it was the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.  It puts the current British governments’ paltry response to the refugee crisis to shame.  Miguel Bezos left the Jesuit school (that, ironically, Fidel Castro had also attended) and was relocated and educated in the United States under the leadership of a young Irish priest, Fr Bryan O Walsh.   The Diocese of Miami organised the program created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities) of Miami in December 1960 at the request of parents in Cuba to provide an opportunity for them to send their children to Miami to avoid Marxist-Leninist indoctrination.  O’ Walsh died in 2001  and was an old boy of the Crescent, the Jesuit school in Limerick.

When you hear the backstory of his stepfather, meticulously researched by Brad Stone, you get an insight into this relentless drive. The stable and aspirational background Miguel and his mother gave him, with a strong awareness that all could be taken away from them at any stage. However most poignant, for me reading the book, was the courage it took the now famous Jeff Bezos to track down his real father – maybe it is that wound of abandonment that explains his uncompromising search for truth. Jeff Bezos is a disruptive leader and Amazon has ripped up the retailer’s rulebook in many ways.  Not least because it was the first online company to allow hostile reviews of products that it sold.  Relentless and truth at any cost – but perhaps driven by deep and disruptive events in his own childhood.

Pancakes & #Ashtags

AMDG

IMG_4420Its been a busy couple of days at the Manchester Chaplaincy. Traditionally we sell pancakes to fund the excellent work that our student SVP group do, particularly with the poor homeless (4 soup runs a week) and the breakfast club that they fund and run in Moss Side which ensures that the kids start the school day with a full stomach. Foolishly I challenged them to beat the record of 300 pancakes – with a meal on me promised as the prize …..  they sold 600 pancakes this year.  A great effort and busy day at the chaplaincy – we reckon with the foodbank open in the morning we possibly had close to 800 coming in and out of the building in one day …which is probably a record!

1503833_10152641314431048_3035044841266490689_nNext day, Ash Weds, it  was the church’s turn to be full – with 400 at each mass.  as well as welcoming all who came – I challenged the irregular mass-goers to make it a regular habit during Lent.  I also asked them to do something I never thought I would find myself doing …..  to take a ‘selfie’ of them wearing there ashes with pride…. and to post them on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram etc….  as a way of witnessing.  We even had #ashtag trending, albeit it briefly, in Manchester…. here is our collage below.  Sorry for all those we have left out ……

 

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And one of my favourite Tweets!

AMDG   Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester  on Sun 18th Jan 2015

spamWe live in an age of spam – no matter what form of communication is invented – the postal service. Phones, emails, texting, tweeting, messaging – sooner or later someone will start to use it to bombard us with unsought for invitations….  Win a car… Lose Weight…. Make Money etc etc…. and it doesn’t matter what spam filter is invented to counter this… some always sneak through.  And so we waste time deleting things, clearing our inboxes etc…. and during Exam Time you don’t need to be reminded how precious time is!  That’s why I’ll keep this homily Short….

So in an age of spam – in an age of an incredible volume of communication- what seems like infinite opportunities it is important to develop a skill we Jesuits call Discernment…..   On a superficial level discernment is the ability to know what voices bring us life, and what voices lead us deeper into death…..  Who should we listen to – what invitations should we respond to – What is spiritual spam and where is the genuine voice of God.

Eli_and_SamuelThe First reading – Story of Samuel – is a lovely example – the Child who hears of the voice of the Lord but doesn’t understand. The Master Eli who patiently coaches him in the way of the Lord …..  It is the voice of Lord that brings us abundance of Life, a life, a joy, a freedom that is without limits – I have come so that you may have fullness of life…..   So often we can’t discern the voice of the Lord on our own – and in many religious traditions you can see how beginners in the faith often search for someone wiser, often older, to accompany them.  Here at the chaplaincy we have over 60 students now who come for ‘spiritual direction’ every so often – many to Fr Ian – but also to the other priests, and other trained spiritual directors – you are welcome to come and see me if you are interested in finding out more….   It is this accompaniment in the spiritual life that often sharpens our skills of discernment and leads us to fullness of life.

In the Gospel we see that when we discern God’s voice and when respond to the Lords invitation to come and see….  When we find the messiah…. A future that we had never dreamed of opens up before us.  And the message of the Lord is counter- cultural – we are told in the Second Reading that ‘our bodies are not our own’ but rather Temples of the Holy Spirit …..  if we really believed that, if we lived that, we wouldn’t care if we were not the right shape, we would be freed from the oppression of hyper-sexuality, we wouldn’t waste our time and happiness on chasing an elusive dream – but discover a life of freedom and joy.  So let us be like Eli, and Simon Peter, and Andrew and try and discern his voice amongst all the noise that surrounds us, so that we can respond, we can go and see and say’ speak Lord your servant is listening’ …. And remember we can’t do it on our own……