Archive for the ‘politics’ category

Vista 15: On reflection

October 30, 2013

on reflectonThe last edition of Vista highlighted that one person’s viewpoint alone however well informed, can never give a true picture of what is happening; particularly in a continent as diverse as Europe. What is needed are thoughtful and perceptive insights into the realities of mission practice across Europe – from those engaged in mission. In other words, Europe needs “reflective practitioners”.

This term was coined by Donald Schön as recently as 1983. He defined reflective practice as “the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning” (Schön). Other educationalists have observed that, consciously or not, learning often takes place through a series of stages. The Kolb Learning Cycle, for example, isolates these as concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.

kolb_cycleThe key insight was that we don’t automatically learn from our experiences. Reflection on experience is fundamental in order to obtain generalisations which might then be applied to new situations. And this is no less true for Christian mission.

Mission in Europe doesn’t need gurus; it needs reflective practitioners who have been equipped with the tools to think deeply about their own immediate context and mission practice. That has certainly been the ethos of the MA in European Mission at Redcliffe College. And Vista is one forum for highlighting examples of good reflective practice.

The articles in this issue of Vista are all written by practitioners who are combining their work with a period of academic study. James Cochrane, who has lived and worked in Portugal for a number of years, researches the relevance of the missiological conversation for Portuguese church.  Redcliffe MA student, Rosemary Caudwell brings an understanding of the workings of the European Parliament to her refection on the churches’ engagement with the EU.

David Roche, also a Redcliffe student, as well as a policeman in London, writes about how London City Mission is approaching the issue of homelessness amongst migrants, balancing practical care with sharing the Gospel with this growing population.  And Australian pastor James Sutherland compares three very different ministries he encountered on a study tour of Europe this summer with Darrell Jackson & Mike Frost.

The concept of missio Dei reminds us that “the missionary initiative comes from God alone” (Bosch). It is God’s mission, not ours. And yet, not only in active participation in the experience of mission but also in the acts of reflection, conceptualization and experimentation, “the marvel is that God invites us to join in” (Wright)

Vista 15 October 2013

Is the game over?

November 15, 2011
Jeff Fountain, author of the ‘weekly word’ and Director of the Schuman Centre, is happy for us to post a copy of his latest reflections (14 nov 2011) on the future of the EU and the contribution that spiritual/Christian values can make to ensuring a future for the Union.


Europe’s financial crises continued this past week, fueling further speculation about the breakup of the Eurozone, if not of the whole European Union. One sign carried by the ‘occupy’ protestors raised the pertinent question: is the game over?

Back in 1992, the retiring president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors (pictured), challenged religious leaders to find a soul for Europe. By that, he said he meant a spirituality and meaning. Then he warned, if within ten years that quest had failed, the game would be up

We are nearly a whole decade past Delors’ deadline. Is the game indeed then over?

Today’s headlines would convince many that the European experiment is imploding. America, China, Japan and Britain watch anxiously as Merkel and Sarkozy try to rescue the shaky south from drowning in interest rates. Record high rates have finally, finally, dislodged the Italian incumbent from his self-made fortress, to the relief of the markets. 

The Greek premier has also been pushed aside this past week. Both Mediterranean countries now have interim governments with seasoned European veterans trying to steady the helm. Lucas Papademos in Athens was  vice president of the European Central Bank, 2002-2010. Mario Monti in Rome was a European Commissioner, 1995-2004. 

Chaos

The ECB probably played a major role in the chaos of the past weeks in a strategic move to dislodge Berlusconi. Interest rates had been suppressed in Italy by ECB’s purchase of Italian government bonds. Last week, these purchases slowed down, allowing rates to spiral upwards until the premier resigned. As the markets opened again this week, the ECB immediately started purchasing the bonds again to stabilise the market.

Monti’s appointment will add grist to the conspiracy folk’s mill. For he is a chairman of the Trilateral Commission, a think-tank often accused of plotting for world government and even of having planned the 9/11 attacks! 

The crisis however is far from over simply with the exit of two ex-premiers. A serious financial faultline runs diagonally  from the Irish Sea to the Aegean Sea, with interest rates for  government bonds ranging from 7.74 in Ireland and 5.8 in Spain to over 25% in Greece; compared to 2.34 in Holland and 1.88 for Germany. Even France is battling to maintain its AAA credit rating. 

Small wonder investors continue to be nervous as the media carry doomsday scenarios of the end of the euro and the disintegration of the European Union. For markets are all about trust and perception. 

So where do we as believers stand in the midst of all this unrest? In the first place, we need to own the problem of Europe. Centrifugal forces are at work today towards the fragmentation of Europe: forces of greed, indifference, populism, nationalism and xenophobia. These threaten to turn the clock back to a Europe of competing nations and alliances. 

We need to stand up for a Europe as envisioned by founding father Robert Schuman, a community of peoples deeply rooted in what he called basic Christian values of equality, solidarity, freedom and peace. Together we need to call our political leaders to honour these values.

Roots 

For too long we have ignored the warning from Delors which originally was to Europe’s religiousleaders. Surely this is a task far too important to be left solely to politicians! Schuman himself warned in 1958 that the European Movement would only be successful ‘if future generations can tear themselves away from the temptation of materialism which corrupts society by cutting it off from its spiritual roots.’ The identity of a new Europe, he wrote, ‘cannot and must not remain an economic and technical enterprise; it needs a soul’.

We, as believers in a God who is Father of all and in Jesus Christ who died for all, need to stand up for a united Europe, a diverse Europe, an open Europe, a compassionate Europe, a justEurope, a sustainable Europe and a peaceful Europe.

A Europe that reverts to old nationalistic competitions will only lead back to yesterday’s tragedies. We cannot take the last 66 years of peace for granted. We must continue to move forward together. 

So, is the game over? 

YES! …if we remain cut off from our spiritual roots, for we will not find the necessary resources for unity with diversity, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for compassion and justice, for sustainability and peace. 

NO! …if we only will listen to the fathers.

jeff@schumancentre.eu

Faith in European politics

April 26, 2011

We publish our free quarterly research bulletin VISTA today. You can download a copy from the VISTA pages on this blog but here’s a taster from the current Issue for those of you who may not otherwise see it.

ARE EUROPEANS REALLY INTERESTED IN POLITICS?

If you ask an average European* whether politics is important in their lives more than half of them will say that it is not.  However a closer look at the European Values Study data suggests a more complex picture.  We have focussed in on three aspects, the importance of politics to today’s Europeans, active involvement in political parties and their confidence in political institutions.

IMPORTANCE

Only 9% of Europeans say that politics is very important in their lives with 60% saying that politics is not, or not at all important to them.  The most politically disengaged are the Portuguese and the Spanish with only 4.7% and 5.2% saying that politics is important, whereas 14% of Greeks say so. Further questions asking how interested they are in politics and how often they discuss political matters with their friends suggest similar levels of disinterest.

However, when asked how often they followed politics on TV, radio or in the papers a surprising contrast emerged.  In every one of the countries the level of political engagement through the media was significantly higher with almost 50% following political matters on a daily basis.

BELONGING

Given that so few say that politics is important to them, it is perhaps no surprise that the percentage of those who say they belong to a political party  is also very low. Overall just under 4% of Europeans belong to a political party or group but in some countries the percentage is much lower than that, only 2% in GB and Spain and 1% in Poland.  Only in the Netherlands is there a notably higher level of political engagement by belonging with nearly 12% saying that they belong to a political party.

CONFIDENCE

The third measure of political engagement we considered relates to the confidence in political institutions, namely the parliament,   government, and political parties in the countries in question, and the EU.  Overall the political institution that enjoys the greatest confidence of Europeans is the EU with 7.5% of Europeans saying they are very confident about it.   This is followed by their own Parliament (3,9%), their government (2.8%) and finally the political parties themselves (1.4%).  As Figure 3 clearly shows however, there are significant national variations with Germany, GB and the Netherlands being much more euroskeptic, and Spain, Portugal, Poland and Italy ranking the EU as much more trustworthy than their national parliaments.  Tellingly in no country does confidence in political parties rise above 3%.

CONCLUSIONS

It is clear that Europeans are largely disengaged from politics when it comes to active participation in political parties or even political debate over coffee with their friends.  Nevertheless, they are avid consumers of political matters in the media which may evidence a keen self-interest if nothing else.

The crisis of confidence that political institutions are suffering is perhaps most clearly illustrated by comparison with levels of confidence in the church, another widely questioned institution.  In every country but Belgium the church enjoys much more confidence than political institutions.  Europeans appear to have more faith in faith than in politics.