Category: Reform


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

One of the most under-reported stories in the new year was a good-news-one,  surprise, surprise (we are not interested in good stories)!  2017 was the safest year in commercial air travel with no deaths reported, despite there being more flights than ever before. This is incredible considering 3.77bn people flew last year, it marks a consistent rise since 2010 which shows no signs of slowing down.  This amazing pace of growth creates all sorts of stresses on the industry, with Ryan Air struggling to recruit enough pilots, Easy Jet accused of over-scheduling, but it is quite a relief that it doesn’t seem to affect safety standards.

It made me think of a book I read a couple of years ago – ‘Black Box Thinking’ by the British author Matthew Syed. He suggests that the commercial airline industry can be held up as a model of continual and successful reform.  His basic thesis is that the air travel is becoming one of the safest ways of travelling because of the way the industry learns every time there is a terrible crash.  The Black Box in an aircraft typically contains a data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.  The data recorder preserves the recent history of the flight through the recording of dozens of parameters collected several times per second,  the voice recorder preserves the recent history of the sounds in the cockpit, including the conversation of the pilots.  So it is a record of that complex interaction between technology and humans – and facilitates a post-disaster investigation. Syed basically argues this means that the airline industry has been able to constantly make reforms that make it safer for all of us to fly.  This is compared to the medical profession which is very resistant to reform because of consultants and surgeon’s tendency to cover up mistakes.

I think it is a fascinating book because it is about learning from failure, which Syed argues is the most powerful method of learning known to mankind. Black Box thinkers have a healthy relationship with failure he argues.  This is what makes Pope Francis such a compelling and authentic leader.  From 1990-1991 he was missioned by his provincial, to work for a year and a half in Cordoba, central Argentina.  He was sent there as a form of ‘internal exile’ because he was seen as being a divisive figure and they wanted him ‘out of the way’. There are interesting articles about this time in The Atlantic and also covered by CNN.  Since then Pope Francis has referred to that year and a half as an ‘inner purification’, certainly it was a time of honing his leadership skills and some of his writings from this time are real gems.   He often talks about a book that made a big impression on him by an American Jesuit, John Navone, called ‘Triumph through Failure‘, an interesting exposition of the ‘Theology of the Cross’.  Certainly, it was a time of enduring for Bergoglio, until  Cardinal Quaraccino, the then head of the church in Argentina, surprised by how he was being treated, went to Rome and asked Pope John Paul II to directly request that he become an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires.  The Pope’s intervention trumped the Jesuit vow against taking office in the church …. and the rest, they say, is history.

 

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’.