Category: Christianity


AMDG

Adolescence, the phase of life which marks the transition between childhood and adulthood, has officially been extended – at least according to UK Policy Makers – from 10-24.  This takes into account earlier puberty and a delayed transition into adulthood.  According to  Laurence Steinberg, in the western world adolescence is now three times longer than in the 19th Century and twice as long as in the 1950’s.  So this new official ruling means in the UK, statutory care for care leavers is now extended to the age of  24. Children in ‘care’, usually provided by foster parents,  leave home at the age of 16-18 and have a more abrupt transition into independent life.

The human infant is a helpless creature at birth, virtually immobile and unlike other primates,  cannot even hold on to or cling to his mother. Seventy-five percent of our brain develops after birth,  as is described in David Brooks fascinating book, ‘The Social Animal‘. We require years of development before we can care for ourselves, well into adolescence.  If for whatever reason a mother or father can’t provide this and the government needs to step in, statutory care involves support with housing, health, education, employment and many other things that a family would usually offer support with.

The age at which puberty begins is fairly simple to understand the physical changes that happen are easily observed. It seems that the body changes earlier in societies with better nutrition and health. So the recognizable biological indicators of the onset of puberty often occur around 10.  However, adolescence encompasses elements of biological growth and major social role transitions, both of which have changed in the past century.As regards social role transitions, the digital age has unleashed unprecedented social forces, which are affecting health and wellbeing across these years. So this expanded and more inclusive definition of adolescence is essential for the framing of laws, social policies, and service systems that are developmentally appropriate. The end of adolescence is more difficult to detect, and can have dangerous consequences – you may think because someone is in their late 20’s this is an adult where you a really dealing with someone who still a little child, but they mask it very well.  In religious life, someone can be in their 60’s but you suddenly realise that their behaviour at times is still adolescent.

These changes are important for all institutions to understand, particularly those institutions that need to recruit new members.  In the Catholic Church we joke about confirmation as being ‘the sacrament of exit’,  and often we go all ‘starry-eyed’ about young people, throw a lot of money at pastoral initiatives that have a limited success rate. We often also shut our eyes to the dark side of adolescence, or what Bill Plotkin calls patho-adolescence.  Religious orders that are facing a crisis in attracting novices, often operate out of models of vocation promotion that still are targeting school or college leavers. It usually isn’t even on their radar in our very utilitarian- education factories. However I think the real rich picking grounds now are in the late 20’s /early 30’s when the first career is coming to an end, a re-evaluation is happening hard-earned earned wisdom is starting to sprout.

Which is why I think we have a lot to learn from the Mormons.  I really admire the way that they prepare their young people to be self-sufficient. As a community, it seems that they have painfully had to realise the importance of self-reliance and I think they transmit that brilliantly to their youngsters.  I have only worked with the Mormons through a visionary friend of mine, Brian Grim.  I asked Brian last year what he would say to the Pope, when he next met him and he thought about it and said,  ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every young Catholic was invited to serve a period of mission like young Mormons do?” ‘ Brian has had a fascinating experience of mission himself and an amazing faith-story. The website ‘Faith Counts’ has a series called ‘Holy Envy’ asking different Christians what their tradition could learn from one of the other groups of Christians.  Brian has just written a piece about this and I recommend reading it if you have the time – click here .  He goes on to say,

It’s not just the time young adults spend serving a mission and the lives they impact that makes a difference. It’s also the years of spiritual, financial, and psychological preparation supported by friends, family and congregations that make a difference. This all adds to the spiritual and temporal strength of the LDS Church itself.

It’s not that Catholics don’t have mission programs. They do – FOCUS Missionaries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Maryknoll Mission Volunteers to name a few. The difference is that serving a mission tends to be the exception for Catholics rather than the rule.

 

AMDG

Clayton M Christensen, in 1995, coined the phrase disruptive technology.  These are innovations often produced by an outsider which changes the market, or the way we do things. So for instance in academia, whose currency is the transmission of knowledge – Wikipedia is a disruptive technology, open source, peer-edited,  free access to knowledge, which led to the demise of many traditional encyclopedias that were being produced.  You can think of many other examples digital photography and the demise of Kodak, Uber challenging the taxi industry, Amazon and bookshops, Netflix and the film industry etc.  Christensen as a Mormon comes from a tradition that encourages the innovation of outsiders.

The Gospels of Jesus Christ are meant to be disruptive – this is an outsider the religious power system built around the Temple in Jerusalem.  Whoever is benefitting from the status-quo and the so-called reforming Pharisees.  There are many stories in the Gospels, that haven’t lost their ability to disrupt our complacency…. ideologies can rise and fall, Corbynism will come and go…. but the Gospels seem to have an incredible longevity, perpetually fresh. The poor man at the rich man’s gate (Luke 16) feels very contemporary especially if you have had to pick your way through one of the tented shanty towns that are growing up in some of our towns and cities to get to mass to hear it.    But if we are honest in modern urban life we are developing more sophisticated coping mechanisms to insulate us against feeling uncomfortable.

Pope Francis is a disruptive leader – he is not uncomfortable with the poor, and aware of the isolating danger of wealth he is constantly challenging us to have a deep attentiveness to the poor.  When he was Archbishop in Buenos Aires he would spend his ‘time off’ famously drinking matte with the people in the many slums in the capital city, whereas the wealthy denizens of  Buenos Aires northern suburbs felt snubbed when he showed no interest in attending the receptions, dinner parties, book launches that a bishop would be expected to frequent.  His disruptive leadership would explain why the fiercest critics and resistance is found within the church. As Austen Ivereigh pointed out in some of the ‘disruption’ a fine line has been crossed between disagreement and dissent .  It should be no surprise those who he rattles the most are comfortable with the status quo, on the other hand, Francis is always searching for the lost sheep.  In contrast to Pope Francis, Forbes argues persuasively that Donald Trump leadership is not as a dedicated disruptor but more likely a creator of chaos.

AMDG

51vxcbXaBmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A book which has had a big influence on me recently was Richard Rohr’s Falling Upwards.  Rohr, an American Franciscan has written many books on Spirituality.   He is a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’ having started different communities and recently a Centre for Action & Contemplation.  One of the themes he is very interested in is that of Male Spirituality.  He is acutely aware of a modern male crisis, often linked to the search for a masculine identity. We know about the pressures and expectations that men and women face in their daily lives, its just that men arent very good at talking about it Recently looking at  as sharp rise in  Male Suicide rates,  analysed  and concluded that men are failing to cope, as well as keeping their problems hidden from others

Looking at the perennial issue of reform in the Church – it is important to note a sharp generational tension in the Catholic priesthood (at least what I perceive in the UK).  The older guys – often the ‘formators’ –  are confused about the younger guys who are entering.  Those of us born since the 70’s were formed in postmodern age, where almost nothing has been stable or constant or certain,  social attitudes have changed dramatically.  The church has been trying to reform itself through the Second Vatican Council, the reception of which takes generations to ‘bed in’.   Exacerbating this in the Catholic Church have been the recent  years of public scandal over paedophilia and cover-up by the hierarchy. Now, at least in the UK these scandals are being revealed everywhere, BBC, even Football Clubs, so at least the Catholic Church is not being portrayed as the unique place for these terrible crimes.

Rohrs’ thesis is that the task in the first half of life is in ‘forming the container’…. 51606445-wounded-child-falling-from-his-bike-and-crying-while-holding-his-knee-with-dad-coming-to-help-isolat-stock-photocreating our identity, building up our ego, leaving the nest, achieving things.  Kids test their strength, and when they fall down, they have to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get on with it.  However most of us get to a point where we are secure enough in who we are that we realise that these things don’t matter so much any more – and we start falling upwards.  This is chronological, we have to past through the first phase to get to the second – but we move at different paces…. often linked to suffering.  So for instance, you could be in your 60’s but emotionally you are still a teenager, need your ego boost, need attention etc you are still in the first half of life.  You can also be 16, caring for an ill parent, looking after your brothers and sisters as though you were their dad or mum, and you can be incredibly mature… already you may have reached Rohrs’ falling upward stage.

It may be that we have a generation of priest, seminarians and some bishops,  a high percentage who have what we would call “father wounds,” which can take the form of an absent, emotionally unavailable, alcoholic, or even abusive father and often had no chance to do the task of the first half of life well. So now they want a tribe that is both superior and secure— the danger is a generation of seminarians and young clergy who are cognitively rigid and “risk adverse”; who want to circle the wagons around their imagined secure and superior group whilst the Pope is encouraging them to get out of the sacristy and not be frightened of making mistakes.  This results in a form of clericalism –   preoccupation with clothing, titles, perks, and externals of religion; and more complex things such as  ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and social justice are dead issues for them. None of us can dialogue with others until we can calmly and confidently hold our own identity.

downloadAn interesting thesis – fitting into to why some aspects of the Catholic blogosphere and media are obsessed with Amoris Letitia… and looking inwards…. talk about the reform of the reform rather than getting their hands dirty by sharing in the messiness and brokenness of all our lives. In a time of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, it is tempting to pull up the drawbridge.  Whereas we are called to deepen our faith, put out into the deep – and listen to Jesus saying ‘Do Not be Afraid for I am with you always’.