Category: Reform


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.

AMDG

‘Saints next door’ is what the Pope Francis reminds us of in his new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. This encouraging document is a call to holiness in today’s world and it may prove more attractive to many young people than the empty promises of celebrity and the tyranny of physical perfection.  The Pope is reminding us that ‘Holiness’ is not just found in esoteric devotional practices or historical hagiographical accounts.  Holiness is ‘a practical way for our own time.’

It is tempting to restrict our understanding of holiness to something that is for ‘professional religious’ i.e. for monks and nuns, and therefore out of the reach of ordinary people. However, in Vatican 2, Lumen Gentium spoke with great clarity about ‘The universal call to holiness’.  Pope John Paul II spoke powerfully about holiness being a task, not a state.   Here Pope Francis is building on this,  showing how this path to holiness involves a daily encounter between our weakness and the transformative power of God’s grace.

There is nothing new or radical about this, it has been a theme in the Church at many different times of renewal in its long and fascinating history – recently Francis de Sales gave some very practical steps for this.  For Pope Francis, as well as encouraging every-day holiness,  it is also about spotting the temptation to ‘false forms of holiness’.  Some of his familiar themes come up, for instance, the simple but heroic act of resisting gossip is a step on this path to holiness. Listening with patience and love, in a time when the experience of attentive listening and being listened too is becoming all too rare, is another way.  There is also some very good advice about where many of us spend a lot of our lives – online.

“  115 Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the
internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media,
limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and
all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.
The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be
unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own
discontent by lashing out at others. It is striking that at times, in claiming to
uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids
bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others. Here we see how the
unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze (cf. Jas 3:6).”

 

 

AMDG

There is currently a lot of debate about how toxic parts of the internet are becoming. Whether it’s disinformation campaigns, ‘Troll Farms’ or data being ‘mined’ and exploited.  As important as all these things are there is something more fundamentally dystopian that I am concerned about – we seem to be raising a generation who are not being taught how to forgive and move on.  Until the internet learns how to forget it cannot forgive. We have a generation who are being encouraged to put all their private lives online, who are becoming emotionally dependent on ‘how many followers you have’ or ‘how many likes you have got’.  This is not an emotionally resilient generation.  So when they make mistakes, which they inevitably will, rather than being supported by loving parents (which I was) they are being publically shamed by their peers.  Generalisations of course…. there are always exceptions but I think if you spot a digitally wise teenager you are spotting a future leader.  Many of their peers are in danger of growing up to be neurotic, emotional control freaks who are both excessively permissive and also harshly puritanical.

How important it is and how difficult it is to let things go.  Resentment can act like a snake that coils around your heart and slowly squeezes so that a heart of flesh becomes a heart of stone.  Resentment is the opposite of gratitude – it tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. Gratitude receives the unfolding of life as a constant gift and has the renewing and refreshing quality of a gurgling mountain stream. Resentment wraps us up in darkness and our memories stagnate and become distorted.

This is why, when it is appropriate and we are ready, we need the grace of forgetting in order to forgive and let go. However, the internet is in danger of becoming an engine of resentment. In the UK there has been a succession of stories where people who have broken through to a high profile role have suddenly been brought low because of something they said on the Internet when they were younger and they should have known better. Immature opinions and angry outbursts come back to haunt people.  So someone in their late 20’s who works hard and is talented, gets a high profile job and then has to endure a media tornado of shaming because of something they said online when they were 16 and suddenly lose their job.  Online shaming has seen the unwelcome re-emergence of the destructive phenomena of public shaming.

There was an important ruling in the EU for the ‘right to be forgotten’ in 2012.   This allowed individuals to request that their names were removed from search engines, allowing EU citizens to  “determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past.”  In this age of the ‘techlash’ and a new interest in ‘digital-parenting’, I often talk to students about how important it is to clean up your digital footprint. Their Facebook timeline is of much more interest to prospective employers than their CV’s.

All in all, it is becoming a tougher climate in which to promote the much-needed process of reconciliation.