Tag Archive: Culture


bbcradio4Today we were very lucky to host the Radio 4 Sunday Service here in the Holy Name Manchester .  It has a UK audience of 2.5 million, and  is streamed live all over Europe, as well as being available to listen again for 7 days on the BBC Website.  On the internet it is a global audience.   Because it is live – the timings are very tight – so a couple of times my homily was shortened (I bet the students wish that a Radio 4 producer came to all our masses !)  Here is the original homily I gave on the difference between optimism and hope. 

The wonderful Choir rehearsing for the Radio 4 Broadcast

The wonderful Choir rehearsing for the Radio 4 Broadcast

There is a profound difference between optimism and hope. Today is about hope – the feast of Christ the Universal King – He is the reason for our hope.  Being around so many students here in Manchester fills me with optimism – their energy, their idealism, their passion.  But optimism can be fragile – we can easily get sucked down into swamps of cynicism, or wallow in a culture that delights in mocking.  We have just heard how they mocked Jesus on the cross ‘  If you are the King of the Jews save yourself’  Jesus is not the king of one ethnic group he is the universal King – In the midst of his suffering even the good thief senses this and rebukes them from his own cross – ‘Have you no fear of God?  – and his reward is the promise of Jesus the King of Heaven  – ‘ Today you will be with me in paradise’.  Can you imagine how the good thief’s heart soared with Hope on hearing this unexpected promise? Hope is deeply rooted, Hope is more resilient than optimism, it doesn’t snap in the face of storms, nor does it wither away amidst hostility.   Christian Hope is anchored in two places – firstly our belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, so we can hope in the face of inevitable death, we can even hope in the face of disaster.  And secondly today we anticipate what the Catholic writer J.R.R Tolkien calls the ‘Return of the King’.  That we look forward to Christ the King returning to bring about a new era of justice and peace for all people.  When it seems that there is too much suffering and evil is flourishing, leaders are getting away with oppressing and killing their own people – belief in the return of Jesus is not just wishful thinking, delusional – but is a wellspring of hope.

As a university chaplain I see the potency of that hope every day.  Here in Manchester, our chaplaincy family consist of students from all over the world. They come from so many different situations, and what unites them is their faith, sometimes in the face of terrible persecution. Last week a young man from Pakistan told me how his family home was burnt down 6 months ago in anti-Christian Riots, students from Nigeria tell me with pride about the courage of their families who are going to church today even though there is a continual threat of bombing, the faith and devotion of a student from Syria, who is trying to help her family in Damascus is a constant inspiration.  These are intelligent, professional, scholars, many of them scientists who appear to have an unshakeable hope in their hearts.

Fr Williams Office turned into a live broadcast studio

Fr Williams Office turned into a live broadcast studio

A couple of years ago I was sent to the Philippines for my last year of training as a Jesuit.  Part of that experience was to live in the shanty towns in Manila for a few weeks.  The shanty town was very densely populated – with many people building houses on stilts out into Manila Bay.  When I arrived they were recovering from a very strong typhoon that had destroyed many houses. It was a remarkable experience, to briefly share the lives of these people.  Two things struck me – firstly how resilient they were.  They did not have much – so in the typhoon they had not lost much, and as we helped them rebuild their houses there was great joy and freedom.  Secondly how that resilience was rooted in faith and hope.  This is so evident in the recent disaster in the Philippines. It is has been remarkable seeing how extended families have pulled together, we have seen this these weeks in Cebu and Leyte, how families have travelled to the disaster areas to help feed and rebuild their loved ones. The communities that are present and able to immediately provide that hope are not the politicians but the churches.

Here in Britain we need communities of hope – our students here in Manchester have started the first student-run foodbank in the country.  It is needed because so many have lost the support of family – have no extended family they can turn.   But the student community here gives them hope, when they have to choose between heating their homes and eating – it is our foodbank that they can turn to which helps them through a short-term crisis, without creating dependency and also signposting them to other voluntary support groups.   And it is remarkable how much of this civil society is faith based.  They are communities of hope.

We are called to build communities of hope, the church is called to take risks and we can’t just do it from the safety of the internet. There is a fascinating book by Sherry Turkle, an MIT Professor, called Alone Together – Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.  So let us expect and give more to each other. Pope Francis is challenging us to get out of our digital bubbles, and also to stop hiding behind our ceremonies – and go out and spread our hope especially to the poor. He has said the Church that remains in the Sacristy gets sick.  We are being challenged to become a church that carries the hope that is rooted in our hearts to the edges and margins of society. Are we up to that challenge?


You can hear  the whole service by clicking on this link

Facebook & Status Anxiety


This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments when I finish (14th)

Thumbs down.It was reported last week that Facebook spreads unhappiness (examples here and here).  Research in Michigan, US,  suggested using the site makes people less satisfied with their lives. This resonates with other research that claims Facebook usage increases feelings of isolation, jealousy and depression. It is not clear whether this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation… i.e. it is not facebook that causes isolation but rather those who feel isolated who are more likely to spend more time on facebook. However let’s remember the genesis of facebook, dreamed up in the dorms of Harvard, a high-pressure tank of adolescent insecurity, competitiveness and astronomical expectations. This was portrayed warts and all in the film The Social Network – and perhaps explains why  the architecture of Facebook Pages are often carefully designed to suggest a great and exciting life and therefore can be misleading.

status anxietyCould it be that Facebook is hyper-charging ‘status anxiety’. This idea came from a fascinating book of the same title by (atheist) philosopher Alain de Botton. Most unhappiness comes from this status anxiety and explains why the rich are often unhappier than those with much more modest lifestyles. Because we are always comparing ourselves to those who are one step above us on the wealth ladder. Rather than being satisfied with what we have, we become anxious because we don’t have as nice a car, as big a house etc as this or that friend. You can see how that works on facebook – X’s status updates/ photos indicate they are having a more exciting life than me. Look at his photo in a club surrounded by those beautiful girls whilst I am stuck at home (probably doing something much more interesting or fulfilling). Why has she got twice as many friends as me. So if you want to be happy – don’t fall into the trap of Facebook Status Anxiety!

By the way if you have read this through my facebook link and think it’s a bit hypocritical – my blog posts go onto facebook and twitter automatically. My policy with facebook is to ‘raid’ every week – get in and get out as quickly as I can – and do my business before I get sucked in…(honest) !!

Stay Fresh for Freshers Week


Greetings from Manchester!  We are in the middle of a hectic freshers week and it is impressive just to see the sheer volume of students arriving here in Manchester.  I count myself blessed to have inherited a very impressive core group of young men and women here at the chaplaincy who commitment and passion for the place is striking.  Freshers seem broadly to fall into two camps, at least at first glance, those who are arriving here from the immediate locality, or surrounding towns and cities, often accompanied by a cohort of friends from sixth form or other schools, and so have an immediate support group to rely on.  Then there are the many freshers who have come from far, often arriving on their own, excited and nervous.  I must admit, this group concerns me more, because they are more vulnerable.  There is a lot of pressure on them to make friends quickly and just a quick glance at the promotions and posters of Freshers Week events – there is a relentless mantra of alcohol, parties etc….. There is a certain peer pressure, with a new-found freedom that is being quite cynically exploited by bars, clubs and the booze industry.  As I said to the students at mass on Sunday night – be prudent, wise, carefully select your friends and don’t do anything that you’re not comfortable with.

I was wondering if I sound like a grumpy old priest, but this analysis was confirmed yesterday in three random conversations.  Firstly a young man came up from Azerbaijan came up to me looking for the Muslim chaplain, after a good chat as he was leaving he said, ‘Pray for me Father that I can stay true to my faith this week.’  I assured him I would, and was very impressed by his words.  A little later I was on the phone to a local printers getting a banner organised, I wanted to know if he could deliver it within 24 hours, and when he asked where I was, he tone changed suddenly and was delighted when I said Catholic Chaplaincy – he then confided to me his concerns about Freshers Week, and that they had considered a campaign which would say ‘Stay Fresh for Freshers Week’.  He wrapped up the conversation saying that we would get the banner for cost price – i.e. straight from the suppliers and they wouldn’t charge us!  His name – Omer and here’s a link to his company (clicky clicky).   Thirdly, later on in the day, I happened to be in the Church showing two students how to operate the disabled lift when two young architecture students came in.  They were saying how beautiful the church was, and told me it was a great space to come and sit amidst the hurly burly of Freshers Fairs etc.  The conversation went in the same direction as the previous ones – about their concerns etc.  And yes – they too were Muslims.  So these three random conversations with Muslim students and a Muslim businessman made me realise – maybe I am not a grumpy old priest after all !

More precious than money or happiness?


I am reading a thrilling book at the moment on one man’s quest for silence in the modern world. George Prochnik argues that more than money, power and even happiness, silence has become the most precious commodity of the modern world. Fascinatingly he traces the etymology of the English word silence – to a Gothic verb anasilan, which is a verb that describes the experience of the wind dying down. This is a very evocative verb, you can almost imagine the Gothic tribes standing outside their wind battered huts in Germany or around the Black Sea, savouring the respite in the biting wind.  The noise of the wind for them has almost become a relentless buffeting of wind for us in the age of TV, IPod, and urban life.  But paradoxically it is in the cessation of noise that we come to appreciate noise. Neuroscientists at Stanford University have demonstrated that when we listen to music it is the silent intervals in what we are listening to that triggers the most intense and pleasurable brain activity.

Prochnik  argues that a lack of silence is actually harming us.  Spending time with a police officer in New York on night shift, he discovers that the majority of domestic disputes that the cop is called out to are actually noise complaints.  When the cop arrives he goes into rooms where the television is blaring, with a radio on top of that and maybe a game station going on too.  The first thing the cop does is tells them to turn everything down and get them to sit down for a minute and listen.  The stress decreases, the tension abates, muscles relax, the heart beats more slowly and the cop says ‘that feels different doesn’t it! – maybe the reason you were fighting is how loud it is inside of the apartment’ According to the cop  most of the cases end there and then. I have only just starting reading  his book,  ‘A pursuit of Silence‘ embarks on a fascinating quest and I’m looking forward to accompanying him on it!

Digital Vertigo


The Internet needs ‘saving’ from its current direction or we are heading into a digital nightmare of radical transparency and exhibitionism.  This was the basic theme presented at a fascinating discussion at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday evening as Andrew Keen was promoting and discussing his new(ish) book ‘Digital Vertigo’ .  Keen, now in his early fifties, is one of the pioneering generation of digital entrepreneurs who is expressing alarm at the direction the internet is taking, with particular criticism for Facebook, he warns us that we are entering an age of unprecedented exhibitionism, which will be damaging for many. Most of us in the audience were Digital Immigrants (i.e. we remember life before the internet!) unlike the younger generation of Digital Natives who will feel the full force of the agenda to socialise the internet.  According to Keen, Silicon Valley  has written off privacy as being something archaic.  My experience in recent years of working as a chaplain and a teacher was how important it is to encourage my students to use Facebook / Twitter / You Tube prudently.   They need to realise that by putting, drunken, half-naked photos onto social network sites they are making themselves hostages to fortune.  The world is assessing our identity by what we leave online and the internet doesn’t forget!  Future employers will be very interested in finding out as much as they can about who they are about to invest in.


Andrew Keen – a weary wisdom

Reflecting on the stimulating evening, I couldn’t help thinking about the idea of ‘structural sin’.  Facebook / Google claim that they are providing a public good, they are trying to change the world and there is a lot of powerful evidence that there is some truth in that (Arab Spring, Charity Fundraising, Linking Isolated communities).  However there is a lie at  the heart of the agenda,  Facebook is making huge amounts of money at selling our private data to companies, it is a profit driven organisation not a public good.  It seems to me that this exploits the worst vulnerabilities of adolescents as they attempt to build a circle of friends,.  As we all know, as we are growing up we make mistakes, we experiment with who we are we, what we stand for.  My generation of Digital Natives are fortunate because those mistakes, the embarrassing things we did or said were done in private and are forgotten about.  The internet does not forget and therefore (as the point was made excellently yesterday) can’t forgive.  If the internet doesn’t learn to forgive it will be a dystopia – rather than the utopia that the first wave of internet entrepeneurs envisaged and hoped for.

Yes you can live without Facebook!

The final thing I have found myself reflecting on is what was said about ‘confessional’ culture.  Little did Andrew Keen know that sitting in the audience was a Catholic Priest who had spent nearly 2 hours in the confessional this weekend. It seems that as we are a city-centre church people come from all over Edinburgh to use the confessional here, I have found it a vibrant and very consoling ministry.  But that private confession, one to one, with the inviolability of the seal, has a profoundly healthy and healing dynamic. The confessional, ‘all out there’ culture, cheered (and jeered) on by reality TV, Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle, is damaging and exploitative, and as more of us live ‘on’ line there is a danger that we become more self-revelatory.  This pressure towards inappropriate self-disclosure must be resisted, otherwise we are ultimately being made fools of (like Scotty in Hitchcock’s Vertigo hence the title of the book). So thank you Andrew Keen –  I found him full of a weary wisdom, but feel his analysis is important, pragmatic, and he probably wouldn’t like this but redolent with a disguised and reluctant compassion.  I am going to buy his book!




The Jesuit community here in Edinburgh is full to bursting this August as many guests come to stay.  Yesterday we had a very interesting arrival. Jake Martin is a Jesuit scholastic from the Chicago province, and has a week long stand up show at the Edinburgh Fringe called ‘Learning to Pray in front of the Television‘.  It has been interesting seeing the very healthy congregations here swell a little bit during the start of the festival, at communion time I have noticed a few actors, comedians and got to know a couple of producers who are all clamouring for attention during the festival. However I didn’t expect to see a Jesuit performing at the fringe – hats off to him, brave !  So I asked him to answer questions about his show – if you like the sound of it – come and support him! Or let your friends know about it (links below).

Anyway he has kindly answered three questions for us…

Why is the show called ‘learning to pray in front of the television’ ?

 Learning to Pray in Front of the Television was originally the title of a book I wrote which is being released this October, but the publishers didn’t like it as much as I did so they changed it; but when I decided to put a show up, I thought it was a great opportunity to use my awesome title.

The title fit for the book because it was a memoir (now titled What’s So Funny About Faith: A Memoir at the Intersection of Holy and Hilarious, Loyola Press) and I felt it summed up my childhood and the influence the media had on my faith development.  The show, on the other hand is part fiction, with some autobiographical parts, but television and the media still play a strong role in it.  As a matter of fact, the format of the show is set-up like a reality show, American Idol to be precise, (I know the UK had Pop Idol and The X Factor before it, but I’m a dumb American so American Idol is all I know) and the audience will vote at the end of the show as to whether or not I should be ordained a priest.

Jake Martin SJ – First Jesuit on the fringe?

Maybe you are the first ‘religious’ or Jesuit standup on the fringe what would you like to achieve?

I didn’t know I was the first Jesuit at the Fringe (and if I’m the first Jesuit, then I’m probably the first ‘religious’ period, since we always seem to be the first to move outside of the boundaries of the conventional religious.  I don’t have huge goals for the Fringe other than to hopefully perform for more than two people a night.  The important thing for me has already been done: I wrote a piece that I’m proud of and has a very particular point of view on faith and culture.

Who or what has inspired you to do this?

I did comedy back in Chicago for years and I always heard about the Fringe, it’s a huge deal to go in the States, but, of course, it costs a lot of money and it’s not exactly convenient time wise.  Two years ago I was finally able to attend with a group of high school students who were performing as a part of the American High School Theatre Fest which coincides with the Fringe and I just fell in love with the event.  It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  For an artist–especially a performing artist–it’s nirvana (I’m aware of the irony of that statement) and the sense of community and expression are remarkably life affirming.  It was an incredibly spiritual experience for me. I vowed (yes very religious-y phrasing I know) that I would someday come back and do my own show.  This year just happened to be the year that I got my act together and was able to get here.

Find out more about him in this Huffington Post article – click here

To book tickets for Jakes show – click here

Modern day DaVinci


UK’s Da Vinci

The Edinburgh Book Festival is getting underway up here  and I am rubbing my hands with anticipation!  Of the many authors who will be discussing (and promoting) their books one that caught my eye is Thomas Heatherwick. He is an inspirational designer who has been called a modern day Leonardo da Vinci, an incredible platitude from no other than Sir Terence Conrad, one of the UK’s leading designers.  Heatherwick’s book ‘Making’ reveals the incredible span of his work, from a new shape for double decker buses to  his amazing dandelion Cathedral ‘ UK pavilion at Shanghai Expo.   Heatherwick was also commissioned by Fr Christopher Jamison, the then abbot of Worth Abbey,  to help ‘refurbish’ their abbey Church (right).  According to Heatherwick, ‘the original auditorium space of the Abbey has a tangible spiritual feel to it; a difficult thing to achieve with modern materials without the obvious historical and religious architectural references. Natural stone and neutral colouring make the space light and airy.’  The new furniture he designed  includes pews for 700, choir stalls, monastery seats, desks and confession rooms, all of which were fabricated from the solid hardwood. Heatherwick, who is internationally acclaimed in the field of design, has now emerged into wider British consciousness through his work on the amazing Olympic Cauldron, unveiled to universal admiration at the Opening Ceremony.

Olympic Pentecost?

The idea of the Cauldron was that each country brought in a copper kettle as they paraded in – those individual flames rose together to produce the big Olympic flame. At the end of the games each country will take back their cauldrons with them. It is a beautiful symbol of unity and hope.  Considering the countries take part include including Syria, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Nigeria etc this is a powerful symbol.   The writer behind the Olympic Ceremony, Frank Cottrell Boyce, has written a beautiful reflection on seeing the Cauldron lit for the first time on the Thinking Faith website. Boyce, a Catholic, describes seeing the cauldron lit for the first time in a rehearsal.  The ceremony’s main designer, leaned over to him and whispered, ‘There you go, Frankie, Pentecost!’.  When creative geniuses like Heatherwick and Boyce come together they can produce something transcendental and truly inspiring.  Lets pray that the universal hope of Pentecost may return in all the athletes hearts to their own countries.

Frank Cotteral Boyce’s article on the opening ceremony is here – Thinking Faith 

Thomas Heatherwicks description of the new Benedictine Church at Worth is here - http://www.dezeen.com/2011/11/05/worth-abbey-by-heatherwick-studio/


I was blown away by Friday Nights Opening Ceremony.  It was beautiful, absorbing and emotional at times.  More than once it struck me as transcending mere ceremony to having a liturgical quality to it.  Whether it was the children’s choir hymn singing at the start, or the moving memorial to the victims of terrorism in the middle with its reflective change of pace, beautiful rendition of ‘Abide with Me’, or the powerful and symbolic lighting of the Olympic Flame at the end – ‘Easter Vigilesque’ – followed by the angel/bird like cyclist rising towards heaven.  These spiritual elements would have pleased Baron De Coubertin, the Jesuit educated founder of the modern Olympics who once said ‘  I tried from the beginning to awaken religious feelings by the renewal of Olympic movement … The sport-religious thought has entered only slowly into the awareness of the sports men and women … But little by little it will be taken quite seriously by them‘  (click here for reference).  I think that invoking of the power of the transcendent is when the ceremony moved into liturgical territory.

A previous Boyle / Boyce production

The religious elements may be no surprise when we take into account that the  author of the storyline to the opening ceremony was Liverpudlian Catholic writer Frank Cottrell Boyce.  I have been told that Cottrell Boyce is a regular visitor and guest at the Jesuit community here in Edinburgh.  His contribution was less hailed than that of Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of the opening ceremony. Danny Boyle was listed in a recent article of the Tablet on Britain’s most 100 influential Catholics.  Famously Boyle said in an interview, ‘I was meant to be a priest until I was 14, I was going to transfer to a seminary near Wigan. But this priest, Father Conway, took me aside and said, ‘I don’t think you should go’. Whether he was saving me from the priesthood or the priesthood from me, I don’t know. But quite soon after, I started doing drama. And there’s a real connection, I think. All these directors — Martin ScorseseJohn WooM. Night Shyamalan — they were all meant to be priests.’  One of my favourite films of recent years was Boyle’s production of Cottrell Boyce’s book Millions, about a young a 7-year-old English boy who talks to saints and comes upon a lot of money which he wants to distribute to the poor.  Boyle has since admitted to being a ‘spiritual atheist’, but in many of his works it is clear that there is a deep spiritual imagination and creativity at work.

It was nice that Boyle said that he agreed to take on the difficult task of following on from Beijing’s incredible opening ceremony because he was inspired by his dad who has since died.  I still remember him taking his Oscar in a carrier bag to show his dad after sunday mass at his parish social club of St Mary’s Radcliffe.   Much has been written about the influence of ‘Catholic Imagination’ – the idea that God lurks everywhere in creation, and so the move to the transcendent or spiritual from the mundane everyday is natural and smooth and almost imperceptible.  This is in contrast with another view of God being hidden or in conflict with the world, and so the spiritual is introduced in an explicit way, often jarring , like God is being ‘shoehorned’ in, often experienced in evangelical Christianity. I propose that Friday Nights fantastic ceremony was a product of the Catholic imagination of Frank Cottrell Boyce and Danny Boyle.



Having returned to Edinburgh from beautiful Arisaig it is impossible not to notice all the posters that have popped up all over the place.  They announce the imminent arrival of the Edinburgh International Arts Festival and its 23 associated festivals.  There are book festivals, jazz festivals, politics festival, contemporary art festivals, street performance, internet festivals and interestingly a festival of spirituality and peace.  The Fringe festival (mainly comedians, but also theatre, poetry etc) is the biggest of its kind in the world. Last year the Fringe over three weeks held 2,500 international shows from 60 nations in 258 venues and sold nearly 2 million tickets. It is interesting to observe that stand up comedy has become hugely popular in the UK over the last 10 years.  The top names, are now like rock-stars and play to stadium sized crowds and regularly engage in very lucrative tours. Some of the comedy, dressed up as satire is fairly nasty, mocking and angry and does little to inspire and much to generate cynicism.  However it is interesting to note that the big stars, the most popular seem to have a more gentle approach, often more observational and self-deprecating. 

I am particularly looking forward to the Book Festival and the interestingly named ‘Festival of Spirituality and Peace’. In its twelfth year, the base for the religious festival is an Episcopalian Church, St Johns on Princes Street although there are over 400 activities across 21 venues. With speakers, conversations, performances, film, food, exhibitions, family activities, workshops, art, culture and more ‘FOSP’ is now looking forward to its twelfth year. According to their website the organisers aim is ‘ to encourage community by exploring diversity.   FoSP provides a platform for people to explore their own spirituality by engaging with other people’s, to promote peace.’  The programme is eclectic varying from a Soweto based dance troupe, Poetry in a Persian Tent, sessions on Ethical Banking, Jewish storytelling and Asian & Arabic fusion dance.  I am booking tickets for some discussion events, including one with the title of ‘Where are the Organisational Healers?’ and another intriguingly entitled ‘Churches own 8% of the planet’.  It is a fascinating time to be in Edinburgh – so I will share my experiences on this blog.


Reverse Culture Shock

The clock tower of Big Ben at dusk. The north ...


So I am back in London having left India with a heavy heart.  I seem to have stumbled into a weird collective hangover after a the 4-day holiday inspired by the Queens Jubilee. After an unforgettable farewell from the students and the community in Manvi I am mulling over the last few months.  On Sunday there was a nice ‘bridge’ to coming home – I was able to show some of the children the incredible scenes on the Thames of the BBC’s live footage of the Queens flotilla.  These kids from the villages were amazed at the sights and sounds coming from the UK, the colours of the boats, the Queen, the flags and the pageantry, their eyes were popping out of their heads! For me it was two very different worlds colliding, something I am now experiencing, reverse culture shock is an interesting phenomena. Being home again, surrounded by the familiar but slightly disconnected, I am enjoying a certain anonymity as I walk around, after having been stared at in many places in India and Philippines, although all of the attention was very friendly particularly from young women!  I will miss that but on the whole I prefer anonymity!

I hear the grass is greener in Aberystwyth…..

I have been chuckling to myself as today’s news headlines includes a story about the return of  traffic wardens to Aberyswyth after a year of absence. Their return has been welcomed after a year of ‘chaos’ resulting from bad parking!  - Aberyswyth has nothing on Manila or Bangalore!  I haven’t seen a double-yellow line for a long time and at least there are no cows wandering down the middle of the street. The temperature of 12 degrees has come as a bit of a shock after a year of above 30.  Although give me the choice of 45°C and 12°C, I’ll take chilly drizzly Britain any time! Something that always makes a big impact on me whenever I return home is how green the UK is, the plus side of so much rain! Luxuriating in a warm shower for the first time in 9 months is a wonderful feeling to be savoured slowly, but I will soon be taking that for granted.  It is amazing how quickly we take for granted the many luxuries that are not shared by the majority of the world. Broadband, reliable electricity, power showers, indoor carpets, it is amazing how quickly these luxuries become perceived as necessities, as the Pew Foundation recently researched.  Perhaps consumerism relies on that transition, so we need to be tied into buying and replacing or upgrading various bits of tech.

My experience over the last ten years of taking adolescents and university students to India and Africa is that reverse culture shock is a significant problem for some of them.  Coupled with the dynamic idealisms of the young and the limited amount of interest shared by their friends and family about ‘their’ incredible experience, it is wise to try and prepare them for the re-entry to their own culture. We always have a ‘debriefing’ session and a day of reflection to prepare for this. A useful resource for them is the novel You Can’t Go Home Again  by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940. Although the context is different, going back to small town America during the depression, the ideas are useful for getting young people to prepare themselves. The title comes from the denouement of the novel in which Webber realises: “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” The phrase “you can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that once you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail. It has been suggested that the phrase is sometimes spoken to mean that you can’t return to your place of origin without being deemed a failure.   

I tell the youngsters You can Go home again, in fact you must go home again, but understand that you  have changed. Be patient, try to understand why and when you get angry, but most importantly put into practice the things you have discovered about yourself and the world.  When you are in your mid thirties the reverse culture shock is not so strong – but it is still there. So I hope my life will become more simple, my patience more robust and my compassion deeper now I am back…… a stupid and dangerous thing to write on a blog, please don’t throw it back in my face when I fail!! 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,789 other followers