Tag Archive: Larche


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This week I had  two experiences that provided a very important juxtaposition. The cold, grey, elitist world without God where the weak are trampled on, and a vibrant, love filled world where the weak are cherished and God is at the center…..   On Monday night I was debating a very pleasant Humanist Minister on Ummah TV ( A Barelvi Muslim Channel).  The worldview that the ‘Humanists’ offer is limited by a hyper-rationalism….  which not only is misleading but is also dangerous.  This was put into perspective very powerfully on Weds night when I attended a screening of a new film called ‘The Idiots’  which tells the powerful life story of Jean Vanier and his life among the disabled.  The life of Jean Vanier and the work of Larche paints a powerful picture to why we need to resist ”scientism” and the ‘Humanist’ world view.
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preview_become_weaker_wide_quoteThe film – first.  As a young Canadian naval officer he was invited to live in a house for the disabled by a French Priest. This changed his life and since then he started the L’arche movement which currently has over 130 communities in 32+ countries, including a recently opened home in Bethlehem. Awarded the Templeton prize of £1.7 million last year, Vanier is recognised by many as a living saint, in fact his parents have the process towards beatification already open. But his experience of embracing the weakness of the most vulnerable in our society has a prophetic role in a society which is attempting to eradicate weakness through genetic engineering, pre-natal screening, creating the perfect baby etc.  What is beautiful about the film the Idiots – it is never patronising, it never glosses over the reality, but the joy and the love is palpable.  Here is link to their website where you can see a teaser for the film …  The Idiots – R2W Films .  Hopefully it will be on general release soon.
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maxresdefault (1)On Monday night  I was on a Muslim TV Channel debating with a ‘humanist’.  A charming gentleman but I challenged him over his hyper-rationalism.  The problem is that it is over-reductionist.  A technique that was revolutionary in the science lab – and had amazing results and great discoveries … now has now been applied to the much more complex world of Human Existence. Rationalism has developed its own extremism which in the US is referred to as ‘Scientism’….   Many great errors and disasters have come from an excessive faith in pure reason.    The French Revolution which brutalised French society with the pretense of recreating a new Society based purely on reason, Social Darwinism influenced the Nazi desire to create the Master Race, Communism socially re-engineered a new generation ‘The Soviet Man’ .  I know here in Manchester the students talk about an orthodoxy in life sciences which for example promotes (unchallenged)  the weeding out of Down Syndrome Babies.
This is is why we need Jean Vanier – the Prophet of Weakness.

l_arche_logo_with_titleExciting news from Manchester is that L’arche are opening a new community in Manchester.  The leader of the group, Kevin Coogan, came and gave a fascinating and engaging talk about his experience with L’arche and his passion for living with adults with learning disabilities.  He explained how L’arche, set up by the Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier, had pioneered the model of ‘care in the community’ in the 50’s and 60’s when those with serious mental or physical disability had been confined to large institutions and kept out of sight and mind.

He was so honest and open about the challenges of living with people who had often been abandoned at birth, confined to institutions which may have provided a safe but often not a caring environment.  So the psychological damage of  this experience created another level of difficulties. The power of L’arche is that these people become friends.  And it was fascinating to me to hear how an emotional co-dependence can actually be healing rather than destructive or limiting.  The Community is being part funded by the local authority as they are providing a quality of care for vulnerable adults that is unlikely to be matched. But that relationship has a very interesting tension – for instance where do you draw the lines between a true life-giving healing relationship and safe professional distance.

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Kevin Coogan and his brother Steve raising money for L’arche

A fascinating example Kevin gave was his experience of going on holiday with his wife and kids and bringing two community members with them.  From a faith perspective this is a wonderful and inclusive act of generosity, an unforgettable experience that is priceless.  As a priest I am often grateful for the hospitality of being received into families whether for dinner or a brief break.  However from the cold hard gaze of the local authority – often the funding agency – it would be tempting to be cynical and say, this is a sneaky way of subsidising a family holiday.  Of course this is open to abuse, but when you see the compassion and the generosity with which they are received into the family environment you have to applaud the vision behind this, and bemoan the short-sightedness of the limited vision that comes from a cynical administrative approach.  It was a meeting that has left me much to ponder!

 

Outward Looking

AMDG

 

English: Ivan Lewis MP February 2009 taken by ...

 Ivan Lewis MP 

 

We had a great evening at the chaplaincy on Friday Night – as the Faith and Politics series of evenings came to a climax.  With 4 guests, 2 current MP’s, a former MP and a prominent Catholic Journalist.  What was very striking was how positive the energy was, and it is important to remember how much we can achieve when we are looking outwards rather than inwards.  It is an unhealthy community that splits into factions and rows and gossips about ‘internal matters’ whether dogma or politics. A dynamic attractive community is one that puts its faith into action, helping and engaging with civil society.  First up on Friday was Ivan Lewis MP, who talked about his Jewish identity and upbringing, and his passionate defence of faith schools. Currently the Shadow Secretary for International Development, we had moved his talk forward as he left us to go straight to the airport to fly to Burma and meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

Talking about Faith and Politics from a liberal Jewish perspective it was interesting to hear him talk about the need for integration not assimilation – with an implicit critique to ‘assertive secularism’.  He argued that a good faith school gives you a strong identity which allows integration.  Compare this to Dawkin’s absurd claim that faith schools are a form of child abuse.  It resonated with me when Mr Lewis said that the lack of a sense of identity was a big problem with young people.  Interestingly this is something I have been pondering recently – especially a phenomenon I see more and more as the Digital Age allows people  to experiment with multiple identities.  Although there is a sort-of freedom in this, ultimately the lack of a deep-rooted identity, especially the experimenting with conflicting identities which on line anonymity allows, often leads to bullying and abuse – and also a vulnerability to being buffeted by the shrill winds of consumerism and ‘lifestyle agendas’.

 

The other MP – Paul Goggins, in contrast shared about how his identity had been shaped at Manchester University – particularly through experiences are working with disabled children through L’arche.  This ethos of service was rooted in his faith – and I am delighted he mentioned this as we were invited at yesterdays evenings mass to get involved with the Manchester L’arche community that is opening.  My next post will be about the other two guests on a memorable night!