Why This Liberal Catholic Will be Praying #ThyKingdomCome

The last thing the disciples are recorded as saying to Christ on Earth: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

After all they’d been through, they still didn’t get the point. They were looking for an earthly realm founded on their values – which of course were God’s, and therefore would usher in an era of justice and peace – and missed so much about the Crucifixion and Resurrection they’d experienced first-hand. Doubtless too, they missed the subtle point that all earthly kingdoms, political, theological, or otherwise, are prone to corruption and subverting their own principles.

Why should we be surprised? After two thousand years, we are no different.

As a Liberal Catholic, I can understand Angela Tilby’s pain and sense of loss: for we were the future once. Our tribe had once controlled the kingdom – or at least that small part of it that is the Church of England – and, while we had our faults, it was broadly a time of enlightenment and faith, liberation and not a little courage. It is wonderfully captured in a photo from the mid-1980s, I think in Dean’s Yard, of a smiling Desmond Tutu and Robert Runcie. This was the future of the Church – Catholic and reformed, deeply faithful yet open to asking hard questions, confident in its calling while open towards others, sacrificially committed to justice and peace. This was just thirty years ago.

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Meet the Box-Setts: the Demographic that Will Decide Britain’s Future

Originally posted at Slugger O’Toole…

David Box gives his partner Seema Sett the dorky, Mr Bean-ish look, with the back of his tongue poking out of his gob that he knows always makes her smile when she’s had a rough day. The kids are asleep and they’re in bed too, sprawled on top of the duvet. The tablet is streaming one of their favourite series: Babylon 5. Season 2, the episode where the Technomages first appear. Pure nostalgia for their student days. They’re both a bit geekly about sci-fi: maths graduates, what do you expect? Lying prone, she stretches her hand up, strokes his face, says she’s tired but if he wants to turn that bloody thing off, she has something else in mind before they go to sleep.

If past general elections were defined by demographics spoken about for months in advance – Essex Man, Mondeo Man, Worcester Woman – the surprise results of 2017’s snap poll were driven most of all by Mr Box and Ms Sett: the people whom nobody saw coming and nobody much realised existed. This year’s local elections shows that they haven’t gone away.

Middle-class, entering middle-age, and hitherto deeply depoliticised, last year they voted for a Labour Party led by an overt Marxist perhaps to their own surprise and in numbers that still haven’t really seeped into the consciousness of political analysts and pundits a year later: 50% of 35-44 year olds voted for Corbyn’s Labour last June. At the point in their lives when their financial commitments and personal responsibilities are greatest, with kids at school and jumbo mortgages barely starting to be paid off, only 30% opted for Theresa May’s message of Tory stability.

On Epochal Political Shifts

In the late 1970s, it was young, prosperous, skilled, blue-collar workers who were about to deliver a radical change in the balance of political opinion in Britain. Detaching themselves from family loyalties to Labour that had existed for the two generations since poor Britons first won the vote, they flocked to Margaret Thatcher’s message of hard work, self-reliance, and opposition to the choking stranglehold of bureaucracy and unions.

Thirty years later, that vision is looking increasingly hollow to those who were schoolchildren during the Thatcher revolution, from the bottom of the social scale to the top. Those who work in the public sector haven’t seen an inflation-matching pay rise for eight years, which puts downward pressure on wages even for those in the private and third sectors. The house price spiral keeps them trapped on the same step of the housing ladder if they’re lucky enough to have bought; if they rent, costs are spiralling even more rapidly, while security of tenancy has vanished and is usually hemmed in with massive deposits and restrictive clauses that would have been unimaginable in their turn-of-the-millennium house shares. Both last year’s election and this one’s took place during a round of staff cuts in their children’s schools that went unnoticed by the national press, still less by the strategists who ran the Tory election campaigns. Continue reading

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Boxing, Sculpture and ‘Degeneracy’: Joe Lewis, Max Schmeling and Rudolph Belling

Max Schmeling by Rudolph Belling

Bronze “Der Boxer Max Schmelling” by Rudolf Belling, 1928.

The divergent fates of sculptor and subject of this work are fascinating. Belling held radical views on the theory of sculpture, and his works were damned as ‘degenerate art’ (entartete Kunst) after the Nazis assumed power in 1933. He fled first to New York in 1935 and then to Istanbul two years later, where he would spend the next three decades. He had a successful academic career in Turkey, and moved back to Germany only as an eighty year-old in 1966.

Schmeling, World Heavyweight Champion from 1930-2, fought two legendary bouts against Joe Lewis. Given that Lewis was not only black, but perhaps the first African American to become a national icon, he represented another form of degeneracy for the Nazi régime and the fights had extraordinary political charge.

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Statues of Kleve

Kleve, best known as the home of Anne of Cleves, is a county town in the German state of Northrhine-Westphalia, just 10 kilometres from the Dutch border, with a population of just under 50,000 – and an interesting collection of statues.
Statues of Kleve (6 of 8)

Officially called ’The Little Cobbler of Kleve’ (Klever Schüsterken), everyone calls this the Spitting Statue (Spuckmänneken) – for obvious reasons when the fountain is turned on. After the notorious Netherlands-West Germany 1990 World Cup quarter-final, local wags bedecked it in a Frank Rijkaard Dutch national team jersey! Again, officially, this 1951 statue by Joseph Brüx commemorates Kleve’s shoe industry – the city was long Germany’s capital of children’s shoes.

Statues of Kleve (1 of 8)Made by Karl-Henning Seemann in 1984-6, the Lohengrin Fountain statue in the heart of Kleve’s pedestrian precinct – informally called the Elsa Fountain – tells the story of Kleve’s mythical founder as related by Wagner.

Princess Beatrix lived in the Swan Castle just above the fountain around a thousand years ago. During a walk along the Rhine. she was approached by a Swan who wore a gold chain around its neck, pulling a boat on which a Knight stood, who told her he had come to defend her country. Beatrice fell in love with him and wanted to marry him. He said “yes” under one condition: that she never ask about his name or origin. The couple was happy and had three sons who, over time, became curious and tried to find out where their father came from. Eventually, Beatrix asked forbidden question to her Swan Knight. With a sad face he replied, “My name is Elias and I come from the earthly paradise”. Immediately the Swan appeared and then vanished with the Knight. Beatrice died a few months later of a broken heart.

The statue shows the Swan Knight’s sons desperately trying to stop him from being taken away, as Beatrice looks on helplessly.

Statues of Kleve (4 of 8)

Right beside the Collegiate Church in Kleve, the Dead Warrior (Toter Krieger) statue by Ewald Mataré was erected as part of a World War One memorial originally in 1932. In 1938, it was removed and buried by the Nazis as so-called ‘degenerate art’: although perhaps in reality it was rather too honest an artistic statement about the consequences of industrialised total war for people who were about to start another one. In 1977, parts of the figure were accidentally discovered and it was restored and re-erected as a “warning against injustice and violence” in 1981. The biblical quote on the ground beside it is an extract from the First Letter of Peter – “Those who desire life avoid evil and do good: they seek peace and pursue it”.

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Who Benefits from the Collapse of Power Sharing?

Cross-posted at Slugger O’Toole…

We’re unlikely to know for a long time exactly why talks on restoring devolved government collapsed in such spectacular fashion last week. It’s always worth asking, in those circumstances, ‘cui bono?’

A long-term collapse in devolved arrangements, and a return to Direct Rule, whether or not it is acknowledged as such, would seem at first blush to benefit the DUP, at least in the short term. It also represents a significant shift in power within the DUP, away from Foster and the Assembly group with its stratum of moderates like Simon Hamilton, and towards the consistently hardline Westminster group, which is currently keeping Theresa May in power.

That in turn gives the DUP Westminster group a free hand to push for a hard Brexit with a relatively hard border, not tied into any Executive or wider Assembly approach which would see the DUP constrained by the need for consensus with Sinn Féin and a broader majority of pro-European opinion in the Assembly. Continue reading

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South Africa: The last days of the Zuma presidency

Jacob_Zuma,_2009_World_Economic_Forum_on_Africa-10My latest blog for Prospect Magazine on Zuma’s departure and the prospects for Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency of South Africa…

Cyril Ramaphosa, leader since December of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), which has governed the country since its transition to genuine democracy in 1994, made his name as a superlative trade union lawyer and organiser in the 1980s. He not only forced workplace concessions from the country’s powerful mining magnates for the black majority of their employees, but later was instrumental in sealing the deal on political transition with the apartheid­-era White political elite.

His approach to negotiations has always been patient: he has been willing to concede on many minor matters to secure big goals. This has been on display as he seeks to displace his predecessor as party leader, Jacob Zuma, from the presidency, well in advance of a general election to be held in mid-2019.

Zuma’s nine-year tenure as South Africa’s president now seems likely to end in a matter of days or even hours, perhaps as soon as today’s meeting of the ANC’s party executive…

Read the whole thing here.

Image: copyright World Economic Forum www.weforum.org / Eric Miller emiller@iafrica.com

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Buckfast Abbey

A meeting recently took me to Buckfast Abbey, a first visit. This is a Benedictine Abbey in the heart of rural Devon. It was a midwinter day of strong sunshine and stronger showers, which allowed for some dramatic photography.

Dating back to late Saxon times, Buckfast Abbey was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1539 (frankly, it was already quite decayed and the remaining monks accepted generous payments to repudiate their sacred vows and go quietly). In the early 1800s, almost all the buildings were demolished by a local landowner to make way for a large house. In 1882, some French Benedictines returned to re-establish a community there, which survives to this day.

They immediately built a temporary chapel (the grey buildings on the right) before the current main Abbey church was built, to a design by Frank Walters, from 1906-32, with the tower completed in 1938.Buckfast Abbey, South West Elevation

For me, the crowning glory is Dom Charles Norris’ stunning 1968 east window of Christ at the Last Supper in the 1965 Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Buckfast Abbey. Modernist and depicting a definitely post-Vatican II vision of Catholicism. Thick tiles of glass, chipped to shape and set in concrete or epoxy resin.

Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Buckfast Abbey

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