Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Funeral Of Baroness Margaret Thatcher - 17th April 2013

I was pleased - relieved - to see that the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher went off without any real trouble. There were, inevitably, a few protestors lining the route of the procession from the Palace of Westminster to St Paul's, but these were very much in the minority, and barely audible above the spontaneous applause from the crowd as the coffin made it's slow progress through the streets atop the gun carriage being drawn by the King's Troop Royal Artillery.

There is no doubt that Margaret Thatcher MP was a a divisive figure whilst in Government, through I'm not going to make this post in any way a political statement. Whether you were for or against her, the one inescapable thing about death is that it brings us all to the same level. The exalted, the elite, the rich and the poor all have the same status as we depart this world. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But the real value of life is what we leave behind. What we have achieved, how we are remembered, the imprint we may have made on the lives of our friends, family and all of those we have encountered during our - albeit brief - time in this world. Did we do all that we set out to do? Could we have done more with the resources and the skills that God gave us? Have we followed the example of our Lord, or did we fall short?

These are the values that will be discussed, evaluated and measured in the aftermath of our lives, and none more so that in the case of Baroness Thatcher. In her case, our memories, and the memories of the people that follow us, will be shaped by the historians and the archivists. There is already talk of a Memorial Library, in the mould of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. How will she be remembered? What will they have to say?

Regardless of contemporary or subjective opinion, there can surely be no doubt that she was a powerful and influential leader. It is a fact that she was the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century, serving 11 years as Prime Minister and 15 years as leader of the Conservative Party. It's also a fact that she was a democratically elected leader of the UK. So regardless of anything else, these elements give her the right to respect and a place in history, and for some, a place in their hearts.

Thoughts, prayers and commiserations to her family and friends at this time of mourning.

RIP Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness ThatcherLG OM PC FRS (née Roberts, 13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013)

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Elections: 197919831987

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Micah Challenge Update

Friday 5th April marked 1000 days to go until the Deadline for the Millennium Development Goals - those 8 promises the world made in 2000 to halve extreme poverty by 2015. These very promises ignited the work we do at Micah Challenge - and it's been an interesting journey.

The EXPOSED global call to shine a light on corruption is now live and we need you to help us. Imagine the impact of 1 million people taking a stand against corruption which robs the poorest? Campaigning works. Join us and sign the call!

See more about the Micah challenge here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Would Jesus have had a Twitter account (part 2)

News and information is all around us, all of the time, everywhere we go, incessant, ubiquitous, demanding. Some people talk of information anywhere, anytime, but in fact, isn’t it more a case of information everywhere, all of the time?

Social media has given us the tools and facilities to become connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And this is increasingly a way of life for many people, as a recent newspaper survey discovered. The survey asked respondents a series of questions to determine how they used social media. According to the results:

  • 1 in 3 smartphone owners would rather give up sex than their mobile phone
  • 90% of 18 – 29 year olds say they will sleep with their phone in or beside their bed
  •  23% go on Twitter more than 10 times a day,
  • 51% check social network sites at dinner,
  • 62% use their phones while shopping and
  • 42% will stop a conversation if their phone beeps.

One person was quoted: 
Sometimes I wake up in the night and reach for my phone so I can do a Tweet”. 

And another “I take pictures of my food, my feet….pretty much anything and post it online”.

But let’s pause for a minute before condemning these excesses as the norm for today’s social media users. These are extreme behaviours, and hence why they were deemed newsworthy. Social media has brought enormous benefits and triggered some massive changes to society.  It’s no longer the case of injustice prevailing where there is a lone voice pleading to be heard. That lone voice can become many thousands, or even millions, when it is heard via the power of online social networks such as Twitter or Facebook.

The catalyst for what has become known as the “Arab Spring” was the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. Unable to find work and selling fruit at a roadside stand, a municipal inspector confiscated his wares. An hour later he doused himself with gasoline and set himself afire. His death on 4 January 2011 was widely reported on social media, which brought together various groups dissatisfied with the existing political system, including many unemployed, political and human rights activists, ultimately triggering the Tunisian revolution in search of equal rights and a more democratic government. As we now know, this ultimately spread to other autocratic Arab states, including Syria. This story is still unfolding, and quite where it will lead we do not know. But the significance of mass communication via social media, where just about anyone can have a voice – and be heard – cannot be underestimated as a catalyst for change.

Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford, recently admitted that the church had to find a better way of communicating with young people. RichardChartres, the Bishop of London, wants to recruit 100,000 Christians by 2020 to help communities and spread the gospel. In his Easter message he was reported as saying

 “…the church needed to understand social media better if it is to connect with young people”. He went on to say: “Facebook has been the most successful missionary movement of the past few years and the capacity of new media to challenge and sometime dissolve corporations and long-established institutions is huge”.

 It’s only taken 6 years, but it’s encouraging to know that, at last, the Church of England is taking social media seriously!

But let’s not think of social media purely as a tool for young people. It has as much benefit – if not more – for those of mature years (I neatly fit into this demographic!). More and more older people are finding that Facebook is a way – maybe the only way – of connecting with friends and family. Social networks can provide opportunities for learning a new skill, or joining a club or just participating in online conversations.  According to a report on social media demographics, 27% of users of social networks are aged 45 and over. 

And as if to prove that age is not a barrier to engaging with social media, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI took to Twitter at the age of 85, quickly building up more than 1.6 million followers before signing off the social network on Feb 28th following his almost unprecedented resignation, sending a final thankful tweet:

@PontifexMay you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.

Or this from the Dalai Lama:

@Dalailama “Anger, hatred and jealousy never solve problems, only affection, concern and respect can do that.”

So, coming back to the title of this piece, “would Jesus have had a Twitter account?”. An admittedly irreverent title, but with a serious intent. Jesus was only able to deliver his message to a relatively small number of people; his disciples, followers and those who heard his sermons or witnessed his miracles, and over a relatively short time span. We have to rely on the accuracy of historical records, where his words have been transcribed, translated, interpreted, published and preached over the centuries. Would he have wanted to spread his message more widely, more quickly and in his own words if he’d had the opportunity? Or did he know that his message would achieve greater impact and persistence (but less accuracy) when told and re-told through his disciples and followers? Answers on a postcard – or better still – here on the St Michael’s Discussion Forum!

The key point is that we now live in a highly connected world, a world where we no longer have to be passive consumers of news and information. Social media has given us the tools to become active participants in this global knowledge and information society.  We’ve always had a voice, now we can make it heard. It’s never been easier to find, connect and engage with people – so it’s encouraging that the Church is now starting to take it seriously as part of its outreach strategy.

If you would like to know more about St Michael’s use of social media, or have an opinion on this article please contact me via the comments, or email Steve Dale: