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We must all be “Digital Evangelists” now

In today’s world, the old ways of communication have given way to digital forms, principally expressed through emails and the varying forms of social media.

In the decade since this trend began, small start up companies have risen to become billion dollar corporations, and a few such as My Space and Bebo , have then disappeared equally swiftly in this ever changing market place of ideas.

Our young people rarely read newspapers, or watch television in “real time”; Brother Ivo has tried to keep up, but was recently interested to be updated yet again; such is the speed of transition amongst young people, that  apparently  they will frequently “surf’ their music downloads, perhaps listening to only 50 seconds of a track before moving to the next. The listening of the LP from start to finish is plainly long gone.

The culture has changed enormously since the quiet Sunday when attendance at Church to listen to a 45 minute sermon was one of the few intellectual pastimes available to rich and poor alike.

It was their early appreciation of the power of controlling such change that allowed “progressive”/secular thinkers to populate the media and arts  with like minded people and these have led the way in the marginalisation of faith in the public sphere.

“Politics is downstream of culture” it is said, and if that is true, then so too is religion.

The Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci taught several generations that
Socialism is precisely the religion that must overwhelm Christianity the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltrating the schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society”.

It is not Brother Ivo’s purpose here to address the merits of any particular political creed , but the methodology advanced by Gramsci certainly looks familiar as we have seen secularism incrementally advance across his target areas of influence.

Yet the arrival of the social media has changed the dynamic yet again.

No longer can one plan to capture the commanding heights of the economy , the better to direct one’s revolution of choice.The recent coup against the Turkish President was doomed to failure once it failed to disable his i-phone.

One of the first people to grasp the implications of the social media for politicians was the maverick UKIP MP Douglas Carswell whose book“ The End of politics and the birth of i-Democracy” predated the rise of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, but argued that those who understood and used the new social media would prosper in the new Digital world.

Whatever our personal view of the outcome, the game has changed.

Carswell reminded readers of an interesting but important example which many of us read but probably forgot.

You may recall story of the young Scottish schoolgirl Martha Payne who in 2012 began taking digital photographs of her school dinners and reviewing them online. The first impetus of the education authorities was to ban digital phones in the school canteens; when the story broke, public sympathy was quickly on the side of the child not of the bureaucrats, a digital insurgency against poor school dinners looked to be a small victory but it was also an important illustration of what the lowly person using the social media could achieve culturally and politically.

On a larger scale, a three minute critique of the EU delivered by Daniel Hannan MEP in 2009 was ignored by the UK broadcasting media and press; yet within 24 hours it had been shared by 40,000 people and within days it had been viewed by over a million people. It is hard to imagine that Brexit could or would have happened without the social media.

Here lies an important lesson for the Church as it too seeks to address the continued aggressive marginalisation of faith by those following Gramsci ,whether knowingly, or simply by following the current cultural trends.

Within the Church of England’s programme of Renewal and Reform there is a commitment to move our message online, to develop “Digital Evangelism”

A budget has been set and some very good materials are beginning to be produced both by the institutional Church and by enthusiastic amateurs. It is difficult to over estimate the importance of this initiative.

Shortly before last Christmas the Church sought to place an advertisement in cinemas to proceed the new Star Wars film. At the last minute , despite contracts having been signed, the distributers refused to accept it because it was “religious”; it was contrary to their secular policy and and apparently might offend cinema goers. Quite what message the distributors thought the Church of England might be wishing to deliver was never explored.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways however.

The story dominated the news cycle for 24 hours, crossed the Atlantic, was picked up by the Hollywood press and within the week another 1 million hits had been registered. What was so controversial was a video of people saying the Lord’s Prayer entitled “Just Pray”

There is a theme developing here.

Not only did our ultimate outreach exceed the original expectation, but we saved the £200,000 allocated to buy the 2 minutes slots!

Despite the example of such a success, however the wider Church has not yet fully come to terms with Digital outreach.

The is no criticism of the excellent work being undertaken by those who do; at our last General Synod, brief reference was made to the excellent work undertaken by the team at TGI Monday

Their weekly viewings are disappointingly small; yet if every member of General Synod made a point of sharing it and encouraging friends and family to publish it through email, Church Facebook, twitter etc, this gentle, friendly, culturally nudging weekly Christian programme could reach a far wider public.

Why isn’t every review of Ministry now including the question – ” What is your Church doing to share the message through Digital Evangelism?”

Brother Ivo is not pressing his favourite examples, there are many kinds of projects from every perspective of Church; here are a few desperate examples.

The presence of faith in the Fashion industry has just been explored here

The Church Army has produced a brilliant free course on how to enable ordinary people to speak to others of their faith; Faith Pictures can be sampled here.

Ordinary people sharing their faith can be compelling.  young people’s  challenged members of Synod to do just that and with a low-tech project demonstrate how easy it is to secure internet testimony on a shoe string budget

We don’t have to be po-faced, we can laugh at ourselves as this self deprecating piece exploring “Hand Waving Churches” illustrates.

A longer, entertaining but challenging evening about  Accidental Saints – finding God in all the wrong people”was delivered at St Paul’s by Rev Richard Coles and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Many on the fringes faith will relate to the self critical approach of clergy as the secular world often does not perceive them

Brother Ivo plans to use his blog to search out and publish such pieces from time to time, making this blog a place where Digital Evangelism may be sought and found.

Yet it is not intended that this shall be a destination.

Canon John Spence has boldly proclaimed that he “will not be satisfied until we have put Jesus Christ back at the centre of the country’s life where he rightfully belongs”.

The Social Media gives each and everyone of us the opportunity to play a part in that re-alignment of the culture. We do not have to be authors or technically adept. All each of us need do, is to resolve to be a link in the chain, receiving outreach and passing it on as we build a counter culture that explores faith and helps people to know Jesus in all his ways as expressed in the life of our fellow Christians.

If we can encourage our Churches, families, and friends to “click and share” there is no reason why we cannot fill lives with the normality of the love of Jesus. A lady in the Fashion video speaks of praying ” Father bring the people out of the shadows in the fashion industry”.

Presumably there was relief on both sides as they “came out for Christ”.

That is a profound prayer which we can adapt and extend throughout our social interactions on and off line. If we share our faith, others will feel less afraid and more confident. We can each play our part in advancing our desire to make Jesus known in all the right – and all the wrong places.

It will cost no money and very little effort. It begins with you sharing one of these clips or perhaps a better one known to you.

We can all be Digital Evangelists today

#Brexit? God Save the Queen!

Brother Ivo loves exploring paradox, and the time since Britain voted to exit the EU has left him èmbarrased for choice; where to begin?

Let’s begin on a musical note.

As the remarkable news came through, one might almost have expected Nigel Farrage to celebrate the UK ” Indpendence Day” with the words of the French National Anthem- ” Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé!” – “Children of the fatherland, the time of glory has arrived” It has all the bombast of the Euro-Elite who believed in the Bonapartist vision and project which is the EU, but Mr Farrage had rejected the substance whist perhaps entitled to appropriate a little of the sentiment.

Elsewhere we might enjoy the irony of young progressives demonstrating their radical credentials by joining Jeremy Còrbyn as he supported the power of unelected EU Presidents doing the bidding of lobbyists from Goldman Sachs.

As the morning extended, advocates of the new ” gentler less divisive” politics gathered outside the home of Boris Johnson to abuse him for the temerity of being part of a multi-party coalition that had just contested a binary choice referendum and – Quelle horreur – emerged with the support of the majority of UK electors. Paradox abounds.

As he and others were castigated for their “right wing” stance, their opponents were seemingly ignoring the fact òf that success being rooted in the Labour heartlands from Bury to Boston, from Swansea to Hartlepool. It may not suit the narrative of many of the liberal elite but the result transends politics, classes, regions, origins and generations.

However confident anyone may be in the majority decision there will be uncertainty; that much was always inevitable.

There is one further massive paradox.

The United Kingdom has an unelected Head of State yet unlike the EU Presidents, our Queen does not attempt to steer politics in any direct form. She stands quietly outside the fray but represents a formidable asset on the side of her peoples in these uncertain times.

Whilst young people may hold on to a high opinion of their own importance in these matters, it is the nonagenarian Queen Elizabeth who will see us through. It is worth spending a few moments counting our blessings.

Our Queen learned her “trade” from Winston Churchill ; she saw us move from an Empire spanning the world, to a Commonwealth of Nations that even countries never part of the Empire have wanted to join. She remembers the inception of the EU, its idealism and its initial purpose, she knew De Gaulle and Adenaur. She discussed potential nuclear war with JFK. She has overseen wars and negòtiated peace. She remembers the Windrush, the Notting Hill riots and was on friendly terms with Nelson Mandela. US Presidents shuffle nervously as they await an audience with her.

So here is the greatest paradox.

Our young express anxiety about the future. Our Queen draws on her experience, wisdom, and faith, and whilst others hesitate she will greet our new a Prime Minister and ensure that he or  stay on the path which is best for her peoples.

So never mind EU grandiosity La Patrie and la gloire -” God save the Queen”!

When #LoveWins is not enough.

Many years ago, when political slogans first became fashion accessories, Brother Ivo used to occasionally wear a badge bearing the slogan ” Wearing badges is not enough”.

The badge was lost somewhere along the way, and probably would not be worn now in any event, yet its recollected message was a useful reminder as images have emerged in the media, following the dreadful murders in Orlando.

Nobody can can blame those who have been lighting candles, holding vigils, and joining hands in Great Compton Street singing ” Bridge over troubled water” ; we instinctively want to do something, to show solidarity with the bereaved, and to reassure ourselves that we shall overcome.

Yet wearing badges is not enough. Hashtags do not cut much ice in the councils of Daesche, and the sad individuals trawling the internet to feed their homophobia or misogyny will view all this as confirmation of our moral weakness and national cultural degeneracy.

Terrorism is not new. Russian anarchists took to it in the 19th century, so did Irish Republicans. The tactic of the suicide bomber was developed, not in the Middle East, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Yet the present virulent strain began when a couple of thousand fighters were marauding around Iraq with little more than heavy machine guns mounted on pick up trucks, as the leader of the free world dismissed them as the ” JV (Junior Varsity) Team”.

The ISIS phenomenon was allowed to grow, when a decisive response by a more experienced or resolute US President might have prevented them from capturing vast military resource and, crucially, over a billion dollars in cash which has been used to swiftly mount a social media operation to outreach to the second generation immigrants in first world countries, who seem especially susceptible to their encouragement to actions such as we have seen in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

The old adage ” nothing succeeds like success” applies in this field and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ” glamour” of the Waffen SS attracted recruits from France Holland Norway and Sweden. Even a few British prisoners of war joined them. There is something horribly attractive to young men in such gross and violent organisations, yet the converse is also true. Failure is not a great spur to recruitment. Young people especially, disassociate from it.

It is with this in mind, that Brother Ivo sadly concludes that the destruction of all semblance of ” Islamic State” is essential,: until it is, it will continue to function as a focus for Muslim youth when it wants to demonstrate its rebellion.

This sounds shocking. Many want to choose different “enemies”, less frightening ones. So the Orlando killings are blamed on the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, Christian cake makers and those who disturb student sensitivities with challenges to their complacencies.

Yet one does not have to spend long considering the attitudes of militant Islam to start joining the dots between the extremist pulpit and the smell of cordite.

Though many kindly tolerant people find it deeply uncomfortable to associate their decent Muslim friends and neighbours with what -in other contexts -would be called ” hate speech”, it is unquestionably true that anyone looking for theological texts to justify the destruction of gay people, will not find the Koran lacking in such material.

We in the Christian Churches are struggling with a a handful of texts in our Bible as we try to be inclusive. Ours are less trenchant than those confronting moderate Muslims. Those seeking to read the Koran in a more ” gay friendly” fashion have infinitely more problems. One does not hear of “shared conversations” in UK Mosques; if they occur, it would not be safe to publicise them. Once that might have been conceivable; not anymore.

A recent international survey of attitudes to LGBT lifestyles shows that the Islamic world is resolutely hostile, with the percentage spectrum ranging from the high 70’s to 99%. Even in the UK 52% of Muslims believe it should still be illegal. In at least 10 Islamic countries there is a death penalty for gay behaviour.

Unless addressed, it must surely be the case that a growth of Islamic identity and population within the UK must have a potential for a cultural collision with the gay-friendly zeitgeist within the UK.

In parts of a London and other cities, we are seeing the defacement of public advertisements depicting females with less than Islamic modesty. The New Mayor of London is banning certain images from Transport for London for reasons couched in feminist terms yet congruent with Islamist attitude.

The likelihood is that “Culture Wars” may get worse before it gets better.

So how are we to head this off?

The !eft of politics in particular has been keen to attract support from sectional interests; they have not wanted LGBT people or Muslims to feel excluded from mainstream society. That sounds reasonable enough. It is an admirable aspiration. Yet what will be required of all sections of society if that is to be achieved? What if they are not interested, but inflexibly prefer to assert their religious and cultural rectitude?

Defeating Islamic State whilst holding the confidence of the UK Muslim population and simultaneously advancing gay rights, looks an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

Wearing badges is not enough.

 

Chichester Diocese can learn from its own lessons

The Anglican Church has been considering the Elliott Review into its handling of child abuse matters,  hot on the heels of the Archbishop of Canterbury feeling obliged to issue an apology over such matters in Jersey. At the other end of the country, a victim of abuse has called for the Bishop of Durham -the Church’s lead Bishop in the field – to undergo retraining following mistakes in the North.

In Scotland a 2 the secular world, in Scotland  a 2 year old has suffered dreadfully through institutional Child Protection systemic weakness, and in Northern Ireland, the Kincora Inquiry is beginning its work into  accusations of State Agencies looking the other way to protect the abuser, who, it is suggested, was a security asset.

We never seem to get away from this terrible subject, and when stories come so quickly, one after another, it is easy to glaze over, switch off, and hope that lessons will be learned.

Only, they are not. They never have been, not since the dreadful case of Maria Colwell in 1973, and not following the dozens of case inquiries since.

Everytime we have these tragedies looked into,  the same problems are identified. Case files are neglected, social workers are changed too often, multiple reports are dismissed or not connected, neighbours speak once and when nothing happens assume all is well. The other side of the road is a well trodden path.

The Institutional Church is in just such a mode, even now, despite all the failures within the Church, and outside. Too easily we issue the apology, assert that “lessons have been learnt” , raise our eyes to higher things and move on.

“Moving on” includes a complacency about too many clergy who have avoided attending necessary training and only undertake it with astonishing self confidence in their own ability in this complex field,, despite the plain evidence that better trained and more experienced social work specialists, doctors, lawyers and Judges are constantly falling into error.

On the ground, too many Church folk still believe ” it couldn’t happen here “: in the hierarchy, too many subscribe to the belief that they know what they are doing;and yet, without in the least decrying their bona fides, it has to be said that the story of institutions in many fields across our culture is one of recurring amnesia in this difficult area.

There have been over 30 child protection Public Inquiries concerning child deaths, and the depressing theme that runs through all of them, is that they all say the same thing. Procedures are not complied with, files are transferred and continuitity lost, “dots are not connected” at the vital time, and yet in retrospect, once the tragedy has occurred, it is usually blindingly obvious that any halfway competent review would have seen where it was heading.

Heavens, even Brother Ivo’s writing tends to become repetitive when he returns to this theme!

A culture of complacency creeps back in, and those raising critical and discordant commentary are told to relax, they are assured that lessons have been learnt, and urged that it is unhelpful to draw attention to the Church having a poor history of managing child protection.

This is is why the campaign to review the case of Bishop Bell is so important.

It is of greater importance that simply restoring a historical legacy: in truth, it  is a challenge to the very culture of the church hierarchy, which is one of being instinctively opaque, deferential and unaccountable.

The fact that the Bell case seeks to question poor process in relation to the accused is irrelevant. A Church that can get it right in secrecy, can get it wrong in secrecy, and will have all the necessary tools with which to bury its mistakes

That cases has been made before, both here and elsewhere.

What is new,and that can be said now, is to highlight the amnesia.

We have ” got it right ” and then promptly forgotten the lesson, and this can be demonstrated in the very Diocese of Chichester in which the Bishop Bell controversy is playing out.

Whenever questions about the inquiry process surrounding Bishop Bell are asked, the official response is that nothing can be said because to answer any question would be to breach the right to confidentiality belonging to the complainant. It is deployed as a shield to silence  even those questions touching upon the actions of the institution rather than the circumstances of the accuser. Apparently the cloak of secrecy is drawn so tightly, that even members of the Cathedral Chapter are excluded and frustrated.

Yet there is a double absurdity.

Chichester Diocese is primly refusing to answer questions at the same time that a Public Inquiry into the Kincora Children Home is openly exploring the role (if any) of the security services in covering up abuse.

Victims testimony will be disclosed and agents of MI5, MI6, and Army Intelligence will have to account for their their actions and policies, and yet, according to the Church hierarchy, the Bell case is so impacted by the law of confidentiality, that we cannot even be told whether the accuser’s medical records were examined to determine if her own publicly acknowledged history of mental health fragility shed any light on the story. It is not the content of those records that is sought, but simply confirmation of the fact  that such evidence was considered by a suitably qualified expert ,capable of evaluating the relevance – if any.

That is not a matter of confidentiality; it is a matter of procedural competence.

Yet one does not need to reference the Northern Ireland Public Inquiry to flag up the contrasting absurdity.

On the Diocese of Chichester’s own website, one can read a 54 page report into a previous child protection scandal. Worried at what went wrong in the case of Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard  the Diocese commissioned a report from Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss, whose  report into Child Protection failures at Cleveland as long ago as 1987 set the benchmark for transparency and clarity about how such cases can be investigated and the conclusions put proportionately in the public domain.

On Chichester’s own website, Dame Elizabeth sets out a textbook template which shows how it is possible to balance the public interest in open justice, with due care for the privacy of the complainant. It can be done, it has been done. It can be read in all its transparent fullness here

Chichester  must revisit its own archive and draw suitable conclusions.

Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

This is the lesson that must be drawn from all these past tragedies. We have short term memories but highly entrenched corporate instincts towards secrecy.

This matter will not go away. It will be raised at Question Time at the next General Synod in York. If transparency does not begin thereafter, we shall have to seek a full public debate about the Church’s instinct against openness, by which the default position of “Trust me I’m a Bishop’ is exposed for the absurd foolishness that it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Where are the French Human Rights Lawyers?

Brother Ivo was listening to a Conservative MP speaking on the radio who discharged her responsibility towards holding Government to account by challenging the policy not to accept unaccompanied children from the Calais migrant camp known as ” The Jungle”.

Readers may may know that Brother Ivo has advised that such acceptances must not be based upon an arbitrary number but calibrated to the recruitment of suitable foster carers who are properly supported and resourced.

The State is notoriously a bad parent, and the ranks of the homeless, the depressed, the imprisoned, the suicidal and the parents of children taken into care, are disproportionately represented by those who were once children in the care of institutional parents.

Children from war zones who are let down by poorly managed processes will be especially vulnerable to future radicalisation. By all means be generous, but let us recognise that compassion on the cheap will not end well. If it is going to be done. let it be done with competence as well as compassion.

The lady MP  pressing her Government was very persuasive however, especially as she spoke of children being abused daily in the camps and needing to be ” sewn up ” after abuse. That was a “game changing image”.

Who could not be moved to act as the nature of the problem was thus described? Two small words, but  a horrific and unforgettable image imparted.

The Government has shifted under such advocacy: one only hopes that they will heed a Brother Ivo’s warning and do what is necessary to make the policy a long term success and not just a short term sop to the public conscience.

Yet, the description of the lady MP – whose name Brother Ivo regrettably did not catch – raises two important collateral matters.

First, it does impact on the view which ordinary people may have of the adult inhabitants of the Jungle: if this is happening on a nightly basis, why is not the adult population of that camp not taking some responsibility for the war zone young?

We are told that they are talented people who, given the chance, will be net improvers of British society.  Doubtless there will be those who are acting to protect the young, but evidently there are many whose resonse to vulnerability is to exploit it.

“Open borders” is not a policy assisted by such stories.

There is a second implication.

If this is what is so widely and blatantly occurring to the very young, what are the French authorities doing about it? If the French State is protectively absent where is the French outcry?

More specifically, where is the French Human Right lobby and it’s associated lawyers?

French jurisprudence has traditionally been very strong on ” The Rights of Man”. They may have been inspired in this by the English Thomas Paine, but we’ll let that pass.

When Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Belgium, he was immediately assisted by a lawyer there,  and when he was transferred to France, a French lawyer was promptly engaged. This tradition of leaping to the defence of the unpopular is deeply engaged in the legal/political class of France

The late french Left wing Lawyer Jacques Verges was legendary for his defence of human rights violators from terrorist “Carlos the Jackel” through ” the butcher of Lyons ” Klause Barbie, to the head of the Khmyr Rouge Khieu Samphan. Maitre Verges volunteered to represent each of them. He inspired generations of politically motivated lawyers.

Human Rights lawyers are very good at defending monsters creatively against  perceived threats to their human rights violations, real or imagined .

So where are they, in calling to account the French Government for its failure to protect these unaccompanied children? In England, Social Services would not be allowed to stand idly by such “no go zones” whilst small children are nightly abused; they consider removing children from foster carers who smoke or flirt with voting UKIP.

So what is the story in France?

Advocates of the UK remaining in the EU are currently suggesting that were we to leave, UK Human Rights jurisprudence would grind to a halt. So here is the question-

if European Human Right Jurisprudence is so superior, so activist in defence of Human Rights, so confronting of State injustice – why is it not being deployed to protect the children of “The Jungle”?

 

The Human Face of Inhumanity

The February General Synod debate on the sanctioning of benefit claimants for non-compliance with complex bureaucratic procedures might have become monotonous. Everyone who was called was against them, though one or two made a low key defence of the principle that there must be some control over public expenditure.

What saved the day,  was the almost farcical litany of crazy decisions which might have been amusing were they not to result in serious difficulty for ordinary people, in real cases of hardship. One became almost transfixed as one outrageous decision vied with another for the accolade of worst decision to illustrate the point.

Two examples fixed themselves in Brother Ivo’s recollection.

There was the claimant who had suffered a burglary overnight, and telephoned the Work and Pensions Department to explain she would be late because the police were at the home undertaking forensic examination and needed her presence. For that non-attendance on time, her benefit was suspended for some weeks. She could appeal, but that did not help in the immediate future. She needed the help immediately but this was being ignored.

Even worse was the woman with disability who set off in good time to catch the bus. When it arrived, the mechanism to lower the bus platform was faulty, so she was cheerfully invited to wait for the next one: that was no problem, she had given herself time …except the later bus was cancelled, she arrived late,  and she suffered benefit sanction for weeks. She could appeal etc etc.

One response is to ” blame the Government” and many will, although as indicated, there is a legitimate point in initially requiring claimant compliance when public money is disbursed. That argument slips when it is put to those defining the policy, none of whom is likely to defend such decisions.

Former MP and Synod member Tony Baldry urged members to take the problems to their MP’s surgery, yet surely they are hardly likely to defend the indefensible and one can be sure that the Ministers in charge will blame operational malfeasance.

Nobody invited us to consider the role of the local offices and their staff.

It is at that banal level that such evil is perpetrated. Somebody hears the facts, and decides to sanction the woman who has just been burgled. Somebody goes home to cook the supper having devastated the lady who couldn’t get on the bus.

What is this about?

Are they stupid, cruel, undertrained, bullied by superiors or simply callous?

Do they ever think “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt” or are they like workers on a slaughter line,  blotting out the sensitivity, on the basis that “its a job” or even that “I was just following orders”.

It it is maybe here that the Church should apply itself.

Instead of joining the queue at our MP surgeries, maybe we should be talking to centre staff, their superiors and their trades union representatives. If our faceless bureaucrats are having their humanity checked in at the staff entrance door, we need to know why. If they are having to meet refusal quotas, we need them to tell us.

At present, those making these bad decisions have no “skin in the game”. They suffer no consequencesfor crass  decisions made. Nobody is engaging with them, getting alongside them to ask how such bad calls happen and asking what can be done to put an end to a public scandal. We cannot help them if we don’t hear them. Only when we understand what discretions – if any – exist , and how we can restore the exercise of common sense will we see these examples disappear from our public authorities.

What is happening in our public administration is partly the responsibility of individuals, and it is at that level that humanising it must begin.

Sharing Archbishop Justin’s Confidence in Christ

At a time of challenge, the Church of England is very fortunate to have at its head, one of its most respected leaders for many years.

The recent story of his own history, within a very human messy family life, resonated with believers and non- believers alike, and part of this arose out of the fact that he made perfectly clear that his own sense of identity could survive, because of his clear and unshakeable confidence in Christ.

That confidence is not passive, only comforting him when life’s vicissitudes bring difficulty to his door. It has actively directed choices.

Although many may have forgotten, this quiet, prayerful man has previously given his own personal safety to God’s grace when he stepped into a boat with armed terrorists in Nigeria to negotiate the release of hostages, many in this country retained a sense of respect for him that derived from this and stories like it.. They may have forgotten that he first telephoned his wife to say goodbye in case he should be killed by those to whom he was surrendering his safety, but with every story , an unconscious sense of authenticity is added to our subliminal memory that here, at least, is a public figure of integrity.

Even better, he speaks like a normal person.

Unlike his fine but stereotypically academic predecessor, Archbishop Justin sounds like people we know: more articulate, perhaps , more prayerful – certainly – but  nevertheless just like us. He also has a familiar sense of his own fallibility. He does not rely on his own strength but on Christ alone.

Brother Ivo recently heard him describe how he responded to his early church’s encouragement of the young pre-ordination Justin Welby to join them knocking on doors during its evangelisation week. He hated it. He is , in that, “just like us”

The Lord  clearly had plans for his hesitant follower however.

As a result of that recollection of embarrassed Englishness, he confided that when it comes to speaking of faith matters, he now has his own personal mantra; before every press or television interview, just before the first question he says inwardly to himself “Don’t forget to mention Christ”.

He doesn’t.

You cannot engage with him with any serious question, whether it be migration, tax or family without him bringing it back to his deep personal relationship with Christ. He does what it says on the Mitre.

In Archbishop Justin we have a priceless asset, a leader who naturally and authentically shows to the world what It is to have a daily engagement with Christ in prayer , and how this can affect how we live in a way that many will secretly envy.

In a video released yesterday, we are being given an opportunity to share that witness. Young people especially are receptive to this kind of testimony. They can spot a fake.

Justin Welby is no fake.

Many of us are shy to speak so openly of our faith as he does. Whilst it is certainly ” his job ” to do so, we should not underestimate what that costs him in daily devotion and struggle, to maintain hope in a world where that often becomes very difficult.

That he does so is testimony to what Christ gives to his faithful. He lifts us up.

So why would Christian people not want to learn from this? Why would we not want to share it?

Now we can. Through the magic of the digital world, you can let the Archbishop encourage you in your doubts and point you to the way in which you and your church can share what he wishes to give, which is quite simply, what Christ has given him.

All you have to do is click here That is what Brother Ivo did, and he shared it with you,

Go and do thou likewise.

 

 

The Church remains inadequately prepared for “Digital Evangelism”.

Brother Ivo is not – and should not be – privy to the secrets of the in-house discussions of the Church of England when it comes to the delicate financial and staffing discussions surrounding the creation of the Digital Church initiative.

He is an informed outsider.

He is also free to ask questions, raise awareness, make representations, provoke debate and draw conclusions from what is said and, equally importantly, what is not currently being said.

It is not difficult to draw agreement from the Church Institution about the need to engage with communication. It has ever been thus.

Early Churches did well not to economise on the costs of scribes to copy the early Pauline letters- they might have decided otherwise but did the right thing for us, investing in communication to the benefit of the Church of the future.

The creation of Illuminated manuscripts was costly, in training and implementation. Printing was a challenge, as was the advent of film; Brother Ivo once enjoyed a hilarious conversation with the woman who first secured access to catalogue the Vatican Film Archive, which was an unexpected treasure trove of important early material for the history of cinema. At an early stage, the 19th Century Popes recognised the importance of the new medium and engaged with it.

Social Media is older than we recall. The magisterial Archbishop Cranmer Blog recently celebrated its tenth Anniversary. It continues to be the benchmark for quality and sheer dogged determination to produce weighty and well considered material on a virtual daily basis. Those of us who have attempted to replicate such outreach know the impossibly high bar it sets. One suspects that only political prejudice has prevented the Government from honouring that blog’s founder for services to Christianity and the development of Social Media.

Amongst the other noteworthy exponents held in respectful affection by this blog are DigitalNun and Bishop Nick Baines, yet in this fast moving field we are seeing younger initiatives emerging.

The text based blog  is giving way to the “vlogger” – the digital blogger who shares short film. Brother Ivo must give a brief promotion to TGI Monday and the Virtual Pastor – both coming out of Lichfield Diocese. May Lichfield show the way!

At the February Anglican General Synod we had no scheduled report dedicated to this aspect of the programme called Renewal and Reform, to the newcomers and no illustrated presentation for those new Synod members who have no real notion of what can be done,  or how to conceptualise “Digital Church”.

That absence was nevertheless raised, with an early question to the Business Committee about the absence of a current budget and the fact that if that budget is not in place soon, it will be problematic to call the authorities to account quickly because the York Synod is already virtually closed to new business by reason of a continuation of the ” shared conversations”

The progressing of Renewal and Reform at that Synod focussed on spending £50 million on Ministerial Education; with the shared conversations and sexuality dominating the time on the next occasion, if there is no budget approved by July, the Issue of Digital Church may not pressed by the Church’s elected representatives until after next February.

That would not be a mistake it would be an outrage.

Canon John Spence is spearheading that initiative. Brother Ivo has confidence in him and his team. He did tell Synod that an 81 year old is 8 times more likely to attend Church than an 18 year old. Whilst discussing Evangelism we were told that most Christians have engagement with the Church before they are 25. After that, reaching the ” lost generation” becomes increasingly difficult and unlikely.

Yet our focus  last time was on examining the minutiae of spending £50m to train people to be Ministers who do not currently know that they have a calling; they cannot come ” on stream” for the best part of 8 years.How many young people will have been lost by then?

That budget would have financed a sophisticated professional Digital Media outreach to the young for over ONE HUNDRED years! Such a programme could be formed up and running within a year for an annual budget of £350- £500k per year.

Brother Ivo is not against training vicars, but the contrast in terms of money and focus is arresting.

Jesus taught ” Where your money is so shall your heart be”; he spoke of the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to their own devices whilst he stakes all on the rescue of the lost. We seem to prioritise circling the wagons and doing what we know well, rather than embracing” the scary new” and heading off in search of engagement with those who, as yet have no idea of their need of Christ.

Synod was briefly reminded, this is not a ” budget for social media” – it is a “budget for the evangelisation of the un-churched young”. Yet a year after announcing it the budget is still not allocated.

We, as a wider church, do not seem to have understood that young people no longer obtain their news, opinion, culture or affirmation other than online, yet, when we were joined by young people in the pubic gallery for the debate on evangelisation, it was noticeable they were looking at their mobile devices throughout. Maybe, like Brother Ivo, they were following the parallel debate online amongst those not called by the Chair!

Yet actually doing something about this remains institutionally problematic and currently under addressed. The last Brother Ivo heard the all important budget consideration had been put back to later this month.

Canon Spence did assure us that all will be well, and that the powers that be will get this done, and Brother Ivo accepts his bona fides. No apology however should be made for flagging up the problematic delay that plainly has occurred. The Canon is a diplomat negotiating his way through the labyrinthine processes of Church House; fair enough, but do not assume that all is yet well in the development of this vital outreach.

It is important to set this strand of the Renewal and Reform agenda in its missionary context.

Currently the CofE has 58,689 Twitter followers. The KitKat chocolate bar has 310,401 twitter followers.

Strip out the CofE payroll vote and the story looks incredibly bleak.Yet ask some questions.

Both have a message; each is saying ” look at me” in a culture where every individual makes a daily choice to pay attention to a few of the myriad messages that comes his/her and to ignore the many.

When somebody invites us into their social media world it is an immense privilege. They are giving us permission to break into their world 24 hours a day and to offer our story. It is a preferential position, a great honour to be trusted to that degree. It says- “Your message / story / opinion is important to me and I allow you to tap me on the shoulder and share your thoughts in the midst of my busy day”.

Why would we not be interested in developing such relationships? Why would we not respond to that invitation by offering that person the best of our care love and intellect?

You may be sure that Kitkat employs a highly professional team to calibrate its message into simple and accessible terms. Do you sense that the Church “gets it”?

What does is it say about our attitude to mission that we are so meagrely   engaged in perfecting our skills in responding and developing that outreach. Yet if the person to whom we outreach likes what we say and how we say it, will they not share it with their  friends, cousins, yoga class, book club etc?

The crazy thing is how cheap and cost effective it is to make wider communication. It costs no more to communicate with 5 million people than 500 once the message has been devised and professionally executed.

Digital outreach is a highly professional industry; the Church would be mad to try and reinvent it when there are brilliant professionals out there ready to take away the stress of creative content, keeping up with new platforms, negotiating the licences for the necessary analytical software that underpins the cutting edge targeting of the best campaigns.

We cannot imagine how our message can be packaged for the unchurched young, but we can employ those who can.

There is another aspect to worry about. How many Bishops are “owning” this project? Are our leaders priming our Ministers to seek out evangelising content on the web and to share it with their congregations? There is a already a lot of good material out there, but we seem very poor at seeking it, recognising it and sharing it. We do not have to be good creators of suitable material but we can all be digital evangelists.,sharing the good news at the click of a button.

Brother Ivo closes with an industry story that needs to fire our hope and ambition.

A top advertising agency secured new business and sent the pitch document round its creative teams with the brief to find an angle to make a successful campaign. It was a rather dull prosaic product and many of the top creatives in the agency shook their heads and passed it on until it reached the team that always got the scraps off the table of the more established players. Nothing worked when they did the expected, then somebody had a mad idea.

In that moment “Compare the market” became “compare the meerkat”. The rest is marketing history.

Oh that we in the Church had a similar digital Damascene moment when we realised that our faith can be shared in new and attractive ways.

In the modern era we have the chance to reach many many more than our forebears; but do we have the imagination and drive to make it happen?

Might you, for example. share this amongst Church folk you know, might you raise the need to “click and share” so they too may appreciate the opportunities for evangelism that are slipping away every time we see something online and fail to pass it on?

 

Dogged Theology

It is Little Dog’s second birthday today.

At the moment she looks like a rather fluffy Dalmation, but in a couple of months she will be back looking like a Rastafarian Old English Sheepdog with “cords” more typical of the breed.

The Spanish Water Dog is a ” primitive breed ” which, though comparatively new to Kennel Club registration, is depicted in paintings over a thousand years ago, and thought by some to be the origins of both the Spaniel and a Poodle families. If you cross those dogs in various forms you end up with an approximation of what was known in Spain as the ” Turkish dog”, Spaniel ears and Poodle coat ,though more rustic. They probably originate in the Middle East and made their way to the Iberian peninsular via the North African coast. They are cousins to the Portuguese Water Dog made famous by President Obama’s dog, Bo.

Little Dog has been the Inspiration for more than one sermon.

She has a name, but is commonly referred to as “Little Dog” as a reminder of the Syrophonecian woman who used such creatures to model the supplicant nature of all those of us, scarcely daring to hope that we to might share in the feast, but asking for inclusion anyway. She teaches us that persistent petitioning has its reward and thus encourages us to pray in similar hope and expectation.

When preaching before Christmas on the meeting of the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, Brother Ivo’s sermon centered on that part of the story where Elizabeth reports St John the Baptist “leaping in the womb” at the approaching Messiah.

The ancient Jews had a custom of never speaking the name of Jehovah or Yahweh: there are two words that cannot be spoken in Little Dog’s presence. They are spelt out w-a-l-k and b-a-l-l.

Imprudent use of the words launches Little Dog into paroxysm of enthusiasm, characterised by joyful leaping!

Do we contemplate the coming of the Messiah with anything like such a response? We ought to and are put to shame by our canine friends in their expressions of delight.

She is not always active.

If one is tired, ill, or despondent, one finds oneself accompanied by quiet reassuring companionship, wordless but nonetheless valued. Dogs seem to have a talent for empathy from which we all may learn. Simple presence is sometimes enough for the downcast, but often we withhold even that.

Finally there is the trusting faithfulness.

Leave Little Dog alone and on return she will be found by the front door patiently waiting her master to return. It may be hours; when Brother Ivo’s grandfather died, his dog would go to the end of street to sit patiently as he had done lunchtime and evening throughout their lives together.

Do we show such faithful patience? Do we not regard our time as the priority, our wishes pre-eminent, our needs to the for? Maybe when God leaves our petitions in abeyance there is a higher priority and we need to sit and abide our Master’s wishes, as Little Dog seems content to do.

Of course, tomorrow may be different; she may be racing around, being a playful nuisance, showing her guarding instinct by barking at every household visitor, chewing up a rubber ball under the sofa, but today she is being addressed by one of her more affectionate nicknames  which is ” the Finest Dog in the Kingdom”; just maybe if he learns and follows some of the simple virtues she displays, Brother Ivo might have a sporting chance of joining her there.

Let’s replace Cecil Rhodes statue with one of Engels Foxhunting!

Brother Ivo is undoubtedly a “Christmas person”, much preferring the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord to merely that of the turning of the year. Granted, New Years Eve has a jollity and optimism about it amongst the young, but for those of older years, it tends towards the rather mawkish and sentimental.

Our Scottish cousins have a different view, and may they have a thoroughly good time of it, but it is not for Brother Ivo.

Notwithstanding this, the turn of the year traditionally challenges us to focus upon some improving notion and the one that currently draws Brother Ivo’s thoughts is that of tolerance.

The context of this is the recent furore created by some rather over privileged students at Oriel College Oxford who wish to to do away with a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

Brother Ivo is no expert on Rhodes, but it is undeniably the fact that he left significant funds for the benefit of future generations and they now seem now seem intent on repaying his generosity with priggish ingratitude.

Many other philanthropists had enemies. Andrew Carnegie, for example,  endowed libraries across the world but was so hated for his tough line with Trades Unions, that the anarchist Alexander Berkman attempted to kill him. Plainly philanthropy never did equate to perfect morality.

The problem with Rhodes is that the controversy is intergenerational. The new generation feels entitled to judge out of time, out of context ,  and all too often out of ignorance.

This is a pity because we need to be reminded of our history, and to have important figures set within it like landmarks by which we orientate our way through its twists and turns. The present controversy appears to turn upon this generations lack of tolerance towards those of another time with which it currently feels out of tune. There is much moral vanity on display and no great subtlety of understanding.

It is not a uniquely British phenomenon, indeed there appears to be a rather desperate ” me too” element involved: if New Orleans can reject Robert E Lee (forgetting his role in post American Civil War healing) , then we too must show ourselves no less diligent in repudiating historic wrongs.

Pondering the question of such memorials set Brother Ivo to reflect upon some odd quasi-juxtapositions.

Parliament Square / Whitehall sees memorials to both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Past generations appear to have lived comfortably enough with that. The fact we do so does us credit. The most difficult of disputes to resolve are those where each side “has a point”.

The Embankment has both William Tyndale and Thomas Moore memorialised. One wonders if the passing crowds ever reflect upon how remarkable that equality of honour might appear to those who fought over religion, in past eras,

In Parliament Square we have comparatively recently raised a statue to Nelson Mandela without having felt the need to evict that of Jan Smuts with whom he might have had have several differences of opinion. Happily for the General, most Oxford students won’t know who he is, so he will probably hold his place.

In the same vicinity we have Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill who were far from close friends or political soul mates, indeed a recent book about them bore the sub title “The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire”.

Indian sub-continental rivalries are further memorialised with statues of Nehru and Jinnah almost within hailing distance of each other around the Law Courts, Nehru outside Kings College, and Jinnah over the road in Lincoln Inn Fields.

As far as Brother Ivo recalls, there is no enthusiasm from the Human Rights lobby to remove the statue of Che Guevara from its place on the Embankment despite the jolly homophobe’s penchant for killing political prisoners. Similarly, there is no apparent pressure to rename the two Stalin Avenues in Chatham and Colchester.

We have not yet called to mind the bust of Karl Marx, set appropriately enough in a cemetery, but no doubt were we to do so, Diane Abbott would argue that he did more good than harm, though her accountancy methods might attract some scrutiny on that point.

Such benevolence to the heroes of the Left continues. There is a plan to erect a statue of Friedrich Engels’ beard at Salford University, ( yes,  seriously  ) presumably not to far from the BBC so it will have plenty of visitors.

Looking at the plan, Brother Ivo could not help but mischievously note that they have not felt it necessary to depict space for a brain, but actually there is more fun to be had than that .

The spokesman for the design group responsible, Engine, declared that “We aren’t interested in making a “hero on horseback” which is something Engels would have been horrified by”.

Except he probably wouldn’t.

Engles declared himself never happier than when on horseback – riding to hounds!   He once wrote to Marx “On Saturday I went out fox hunting – seven hours in the saddle….That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days: its the greatest physical pleasure I know…. I was in at the death”.

It is this kind of dichotomy that delights the English. it is probably why we are content to have a degree of incoherence in our historical statuary. We take what we like and put up with what we don’t – and there is a lesson for many in this world.

We are happy to celebrate, in death, aspects of character of those who were bitter opponents in life. We know there is nothing pure or logical in history and that Marx was wrong – there is no historical determinism. We got where we are in a muddled way but somehow we manage ok without continually tearing each other apart. It is this penchant for tolerance that so exasperates the ideologues.

Tolerant peoples are better than “black and white” in their judgements and thank God for that.

It was this acknowledgement of complexity that enabled Mandela and De Klerk to find a way forwards in South Africa – though sadly less broad minds may yet put an end to the hope.

Some of us recall the bonhomie that unexpectedly broke out between the late Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams after they had concluded the Northern Ireland Peace process.

The ability to avoid stiff necked principle is a virtue that has to be learned with age and experience. It is plainly not a common one amongst the self styled elite of younger generation which seems certain it is right about everything, not least where historic statuary is concerned.

In the interests of fostering an ability to compromise. perhaps the way forward for Oriel College, is to offer a historic compromise. They should offer to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue together with all the finance with which he endowed the University, upon condition that it is replaced by a mounted statue of Friedrich Engels riding to hounds.

such a solution would simultaneously be a triumph of the Left, an affirmation of  the importance of truthfulness in historic matters, a tribute to an indispensible feature of the English countryside and a reminder that few of us are as predictable as some would have it believed.

On that quirky note, may you have a Happy and idiosyncratic New Year