Category: Europe


AMDG

I was in Copenhagen for the first time last week and was fascinated by many things. Not least the history of Denmark and the impact of the Viking Age (793-1066). These incredible navigators landed in N.America 500 years before Columbus.  As we also know they did a lot raping and pillaging.  I think particularly interesting is the gradual emergence out of a violent pagan culture, into the unifying and eventually pacifying force of  Christianity. This has been dramatised by the maxresdefaultfascinating Netflix series ‘The Last Kingdom’ which covers the partial Viking Conquest of Britain and the fightback of the Christian King, Alfred the Great.  As told in the Saxon Chronicles of Bernard Cornwall, it was a time of uniting disparate kingdoms and the Birth of England. With Christianity came learning and writing, which mystified the Vikings who dismissed this as sorcery at first, but came to understand its significance, not least as a reliable way of disseminating orders.

The King in Denmark was Harald Bluetooth.  Historians think that Harald had a prominent bad tooth … hence the name, ‘Bluetooth’. He was baptised around 960 by ‘Poppo the Monk’ after Poppo allegedly had passed through a ‘Trial by Fire’ to prove the power of his God was 1200 Harald BlÃ¥tand anagoria.jpgmost powerful. The baptism is recorded in this magnificent gold altar plate from the 12th Century.  He is remembered as a great King and a bridge builder in multiple ways.  As well as constructing the oldest bridge in Scandinavia at Ravning, he also united various tribes as did Alfred. Undoubtedly, some of the unity was brought about by conquest and force but after his conversion, according to lore, Harald had an uncanny ability to bring people together in non-violent negotiations. His initials H () and B () in ancient runes, may look familiar to you,  in fact, you may have glanced at them several times today! 

Image result for bluetoothModern short-link radio technology was developed in Lund in Sweden in 1989, but named Bluetooth by Jim Kardach of Intel in 1996, who explains the story in a blog on Tech History:

Harald had united Denmark and Christianized the Danes! It occurred to me that this would make a good codename for the program. At this time I also created a PowerPoint foil with a version of the Runic stone where Harald held a cellphone in one hand and a notebook in the other and with a translation of the runes:

Bluetooth Special Interest Group, wishes to unite different devices in the way the tribes were united by Harald Bluetooth. 

I have been reflecting on some of the resonances. Christianity spread around the world through communication and connection. With rumours of schism and criticisms of the Pope, it is worth remembering that one of the marks of true renewal, according to Yves Congar,  is that it is in communion with the whole Church. We live in an age of division and rancour.  Some people describe the ‘Diabolos’, as the divider or the slanderer. With so many accusations, in so many walks of life, sometimes it is difficult to discern between the facts and lies. In the midst of all of this,  Pope Francis urges us to build bridges, not walls….  that task seems clearer today and more urgent.

Disrupting Funerals

AMDG

A glut of funerals here at St.Ignatius, North London, has made me curious about the whole funeral business.  Every minute there are over 100 deaths on the planet,  in an ageing population such as the UK, the Death Rate is climbing, in 2016 there were over 560,000.  Losing a loved one involves a lot of grief and people are very vulnerable at these moments,  when families are sadly open to exploitation.  As a business, it seems ripe for disruption and reform.  I have been surprised about the costs and the variation in prices on what is a similar service.  On the face of it, funerals are a predictable, low risk, high margin business with a steady supply of uninformed loyal customers.  The more unscrupulous directors seem, the more likely to sell things what the customers do not know they can refuse,  or feel too embarrassed to question.  It’s not a business where it feels right to haggle,  though that might be changing.  If I meet the family at an early stage in planning the funeral,  I now suggest that they go on a website called “Beyond Life “.   This is a funeral director price comparison site.  You would be surprised at the variations within a short space.  If you go to Amazon to see what the price of a coffin is,  then you will realise the outrageous markup that the funeral directors have placed on it. In Britain, Dignity plc.  is the biggest provider of funeral plans and operates over 44 crematoria around the country, but like all dominant market players it might not be the most efficient.  It has merged many funeral providers around the country and at a cursory glance, the directors affiliated to Dignity seem to charge the most.  It is important to realise that there is no legal obligation to use a funeral director.  In fact, more and more people are getting into unnecessary debt paying for a funeral – The Natural Death charity are campaigning against this exploitation and have a website link worth visiting.

We know there are profound changes in society,  as families are more mobile and dispersed they are also less likely to tend a family grave.  So the traditional ‘Victorian’ funeral in this country may be dying out.  A funeral director recently told me that they are beginning to feel more like event planners. Thank God, in the Catholic Church there is less leeway and the liturgy in some ways protects the grieving family from funeral planners who may want to fire the ashes out of a canon (and then charge you 5k for the privilege).  For a Catholic there are three reasons for a funeral, firstly the family gets strength from their faith in the resurrection, the community and the sacraments.  Secondly an honest celebration of the deceased life and finally the disposal of the body either through burial or cremation.  Other funerals will often include the second and third element.  According to a recent article in the Economist, there seems to be a growing trend of separating the disposal of the Body with a commemoration of someone’s life.  I have noticed that receptions afterwards (like in weddings) are becoming more elaborate and more lavish. In a less religious society, we are seeing an increase in direct cremations, with no-one present, or what Dignity euphemistically call ‘Simplicity Cremations’, wheras the life may be celebrated in a lavish hotel around the corner.

As the internet has cut out the middleman, with companies such as Uber, Amazon, Skyscanner getting rid of taxi companies, bookshops and travel agents – it is also starting to affect the funeral process.  This has lead to a new generation of ‘disruptive consumers’.   However bringing an assertive attitude to the church’s door is difficult for older priests to manage, when ultimately the church is on their side and are trying to respond pastorally. For a £5000 package the church would often only receive around £150 from the undertakers.   This asserting themselves can create a bit of tension in the planning process when we are burying a stalwart of the parish who wishes a simple Catholic requiem mass. However, as the funeral arrangements are not stated in their will then you suddenly are at the whim of a son or daughter who feels they have the right to dictate the service. If they are alienated from the church they are often ignorant about what is appropriate and also what will confuse the loyal parishioners.

AMDG

Pope Benedict memorably described the Internet as a new Digital Continent in 2009.  I had a very enjoyable evening the other night discussing with university students how to be ‘Digital Missionaries‘ in this new continent. We looked at various topic together such as digital discernment, digital navigation and how to avoid digital rocks (so as not to be shipwrecked).  In the end, we all agreed, as we are on a steep learning curve, we need to teach each other how to use these new technologies wisely.  Maybe even set up a ‘Digital Accountability Group’ to share ideas etc.

As a group we came up with ’10 Digital Commandments’ – here are the first five

 

  1. Thou Shall not Text / Message or Comment when you are drunk   (No huge explanation needed here, suffice to say that the internet has not learnt to forget or forgive )
  2. On the Sabbath day, thou shall take a rest from the digital life   (It was agreed that addiction was a real problem, Facebook and Snapchat seem particularly immersive environments where too much time is spent and wasted,  non-digital perspectives are increasingly valued)
  3. Honour thy friend and ask permission before you tag  (With the all-pervasive camera, people’s understanding of what is private and what is public varies wildly, just as we should never assume consent, similarly we should never assume permission. There was a good debate about how realistic this could be.)
  4. Thou shall cut down on multitasking  (This came from a very interesting discussion on Nicholas Carr’s book ‘The Shallows’  – and we all agreed at the end of it that multitasking is junk food for the brain – and the web needs more quality not quantity )
  5. Thou must slow down and pause (Practicing digital impulse control is very important, particularly when getting sucked into a flame-war, it is very disedifying to a be a self-righteous Catholic cyberbully (particularly if you are a priest) there’s enough hate out there let’s not be a counter-sign )    

I’ll put up the others tomorrow – any ideas? Please share them.