Tag Archive: 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

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 Upward.  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. There are many pressures and expectations that men and women face in their daily lives,  men seem less able to talk 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

Thinking about renewal in the Church – it is important to acknowledge the generational tension in the priesthood 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 the 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 full reception of which takes generations.   Exacerbating this has been recent years of public scandal over paedophilia and cover-up by the hierarchy. Now, at least in the UK, these scandals are being exposed in other institutions, the 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, then according to Rohr we start falling upwards.  This is chronological, so we have to past through the first phase to get to the second – but we move at different paces. Some people don’t even get to the second stage.  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.

One of Rohrs’ observations is that there is a generation of priests, seminarians and some bishops,  many who have “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. This manifests itself as a generation of seminarians and young clergy who are cognitively rigid and “risk averse”.  So they want to circle the wagons around their imagined secure and superior group, this bringing them into tension with a Pope who 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. Rohr points out that we can’t dialogue with others until we can calmly and confidently hold our own identity.

downloadAn interesting thesis – maybe this explains why some aspects of the Catholic blogosphere and media are obsessed with Amoris Letitia, particularly one footnote.  The danger is that they end up looking inwards and prefer talking 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’.