Skip to content

THE WAY OF LIFE IN A RETIREMENT COMMUNITY

SM2Robert E. Doud in ;’The Way’ April 2017

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL about moving into a retirement community? If spirituality is about the love of God and the love of neighbour, what difference does it make in someone’s spiritual life to downsize living quarters, dispense with many old possessions and adapt to new surroundings? When my wife, Jackie, and I decided to sell our home of thirty years in Glendale, California and move thirty miles east to La Verne, neither our galaxy nor our solar system was very much affected. The move, however, made a positive spiritual difference in our lives.

There is something biblical about making a big move. Figures such as Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel and Jacob, Naomi and Ruth made many decisions to fold up their tents and wander nomadically from one oasis to the next. No doubt there were farewells to friends and neighbours that the matriarchs and patriarchs had to say. They had provided hospitality to others and probably received it from other tribal leaders and wandering bands. As we migrate through life, the goodness and the providence of God are experienced in old relationships as they are more wistfully appreciated, and new friendships as they spring up to surprise us.

Divestment and Discernment

We started with the books. As two academic people, we had accumulated a large number of books and files, most of which would have to be gone through and eliminated. We relived a good deal of our past as we filled boxes with books that had had some importance for us at different stages in our long careers. Most of the filed material was quickly discarded. Indeed, some files had been neglected over many years and were full of duplicate and triplicate material. The St Vincent de Paul Society sent a truck that came to the door several times to cart away dozens of boxes of books and articles of a religious and philosophical nature.

Who suffers grief or separation anxiety over the loss of old books? I did. In fact, one year on from the big move, I have repurchased some of the titles that I had discarded. But for the most part, I am sure, I shall never remember the vast majority of the books I have given away. And, the clothing! We must have reduced our wardrobes down to about one third of what they were. A happy thought: all of the clothes that were so well known to our Glendale friends looked quite new to the eyes of new friends in La Verne.

Guidance is necessary in making a move of this kind. There are people who know how to do it. We enlisted the help of a company called Gentle Transitions, which helped us eliminate things, drew a floor map of our new residence and advised us on exactly which pieces of furniture to take, and which to discard. When we first became serious about making our move, Hillcrest invited us to a series of workshops on the art of doing it well. One event, I remember, was a sort of auction, in which various items were held up and bids were made from the audience, not with a view to purchasing the items, but rather voting yea or nay on whether these things should be saved or shed immediately. Dusty straw hats, roller skates, cracked vases, soccer trophies and faded plaid sports jackets were voted down. Decades-old children’s toys, we were told, are usually passed on to charity shops and thence, probably, to the dump. In the process we learnt to laugh at our common foibles and predicaments, at the many shared symptoms of ageing, and at ourselves. We were not alone in facing what we had decided to face.

Only a few months before our move, Jackie’s sister Nancy had passed away. Part of the reason, or one of the reasons, we felt ready to make our move was that now we were free to move further away from Nancy’s house. She was eleven years older than Jackie, and we did not want to move away from her because she lived alone in a very large house with stairs and steps inside, she had trouble with walking and balance and was suffering from increasing dementia. When Nancy passed away, her children were left with the immense task of sorting and disposing of her impressive library, elegant and well-stocked wardrobe, thousands of photographs, furniture and many valuable objects.

Sorting out your own stuff before you die is a great gift to your children, heirs and executors! In general, nothing you have is of half the value to your surviving loved ones as it is to yourself. Unloading a lifetime of accumulation is spiritually purging for yourself, generous to them and useful to whoever will acquire the things and use them after you. ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return’ (Job 1:21). It is also possible to arrange your own funeral, design the liturgy of farewell and write a last will and testament that is generous and thoughtful to others, including your favourite charities. All of this is a generous, responsible and spiritually enriching thing to do.

To what extent or in what ways was our deciding to move a process of spiritual discernment? Discernment of spirits requires faith, prayer, hope, a sense of humour, and a keen awareness that God is taking care of us, even when God seems almost arbitrarily to be demanding cruel things of us. It requires a careful sifting of experience in the hope of finding God, finding God’s will, finding God’s care plan for ourselves and for the ones we love. What happens to each of us affects everyone else.

Of course, in our prayers, we first placed before God our inclinations to leave our former home, and then we noticed the growing strength of our wish to join a retirement community. We visited several such communities, to gather data and to draw pictures of them in our minds in order to compare them to the one we eventually chose, Brethren Hillcrest Homes. Hillcrest was always foremost in our minds because we had known about it for many years through friends and former colleagues who had moved there.

Spiritual considerations are of primary importance when making such a decision as whether or not to move into a particular retirement community. Is God calling you to be part of this community? Will your spiritual needs be nurtured there? Will you grow spiritually? Will you be able to serve as friend and minister to others in your new environment? Do you have a history with other people in this community? Such a history serves as a foundation on which to build an enriching experience of life. Is God calling you to find God and God’s grace in this place as you go through the ageing process, sharing time, space and grace with others?

Spiritual discernment looks for hints of divine guidance. Hillcrest was part of our past. We had worked at the University of La Verne, had lived in the c4 and maintained contact with La Verne through one good friend in particular. Now, in the present, a home at Hillcrest that we liked had come on to the market. We were both retired and neither of us wanted to continue with the care and maintenance of an older house that required continual fixing up. I had recently undergone a hip replacement and, although I was now completely healed, I knew that our house, built on a slope, would be problematic if either of us developed mobility problems. The only downside of the decision was the distance, some thirty miles east of Los Angeles and Pasadena, where we had lived and worked, and where many family members and friends resided. Even so, with cars and freeways what they are in California, the distance was manageable.

So, with the help of the hints we could discern, coming from the past, the present situation and the probable future, we bit the bullet and made the decision: move to La Verne. Parallel to our own decision was the situation of a close friend, Jill. A near-lifelong friend of Jackie, and long-term friend of mine, Jill had been diagnosed with Shy-Drager Syndrome. This progressive and irreversible disease involves multiple system atrophy, the gradual wasting away of all the body’s nerves, much like ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jill needs friends who are close by. At the time of writing, she lives in the skilled nursing part of Hillcrest, and we see her every day. Jill’s life is a gift to all her friends, as she brings out of us the best in us, of who we are, and the best of what we have to give.

Dignity and Independence

There is dignity in making one’s own decisions. There is indignity in having one’s life, especially in its personal and private aspects, decided by others. At Hillcrest great efforts are made to help people keep as much dignity and individual self-determination as possible for as long as possible. But, paradoxically, we need others to support us as we try to keep our independence. Doing your own sorting out and cleaning up is an act of independence. It is great to know that you are directing your own decision-making and not waiting for others to take care of things. It is great to be among people—indeed, to live in a community—that supports us in the task of keeping our independence and preserving our dignity.

The enemies of joy and happiness that are found in some retirement communities are depression or discouragement, isolation and feelings of helplessness, uselessness or irrelevance. We are fortunate that, with the many opportunities for involvement and for maintaining our interests at the Hillcrest community, these dangers are staved off effectively. Entertainments abound. There are musical and theatre events here on a regular basis. There are films to watch. We have an art gallery, poetry readings and musical events that are put on by the residents. There are adequate staff to assist residents who have problems with mobility. There are committees to join and opinions to hear about improving our community. Residents may have a small dog or cat for companionship.

There is a movement in some urban areas that is called Ageing in Place.’ It is a fine movement with fine intentions to create a network of care and assistance among the elderly. Even so, there must be times when someone in a situation of need ‘falls through the cracks’. Living alone, an elderly person may not be able to be in charge of his or her own care, especially in an emergency situation. Friends and neighbours may not be able to give the care and attention needed by a participant in the programme.

At Hillcrest, residents are asked to call in every morning, phoning a certain number between 5.00 and 10.00 a.m. If they miss the call, they receive a reminder. In each room of every home there is a pull-cord to summon assistance in an emergency. The facility has a duty of care to its residents, with stipulations established by state law. Nearly every day, paramedics can be seen arriving. So, we are constantly reminded of the transience and fragility of life. Death is never routine, but it is regular and frequent at a continuing care facility for the elderly. There is a special table in our campus lounge area where neatly framed- photographs of the recently deceased are placed. Each month, there are three to four such pictures displayed. The pictures remind us to say a prayer for the person who has died.

Living in a place like this is to become a minister of sorts or, at least, it develops habits and attitudes of being helpful to others. We are constantly aware that the medical conditions of people whom we meet almost every day are ones that we ourselves might be facing tomorrow. The devotion of the spouses of disabled people is remarkable, even heroic. In order to live in a place such as Hillcrest, one must have a heart that readily goes out to other people. Those who are seriously troubled by the presence of the disabled, or by frequent sightings of wheelchairs and walking frames, should not move here. We must remember to be cheerful. This is not artificial; cheerfulness is therapeutic for people who are living with pain and limitations of mind or body.

I hope Elijah (Elias) (I Kings 18-19) had a sense of humour. I picture him prostrate under his biblical broom tree, having fled from the threats of Jezebel into the wilderness, ready to give up completely. He said: ‘Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors’ (1 Kings 19:4). The biblical writer did have a sense of humour. He knew that Elijah would be told by God, after having been provided with some water and a hearth-cake, to walk for forty days to the mountain of the Lord at Horeb. Still today, the Lord may extend our lives, often beyond the limits of what we think we can bear. Jill likes doughnuts. If bringing her a glazed sugar doughnut can help her get through one day, it also helps me understand the story of Elijah, even if I cannot understand the plan of God that keeps Jill alive. She cries a lot. To keep his faith in God, Elijah must have had a sense of humour. An exhausted and totally discouraged prophet and mystic making a forty-day journey on foot in the blistering desert heat? With a single hearth-cake for sustenance? Seriously?

In his old age, Moses stood atop Mount Nebo and watched Joshua lead his people into the Promised Land. No doubt, it was good to watch this great event take place. But, again, why could Moses himself not have been given the joy of walking through the parted waters of the Jordan River? He had long before offended God in a way that disqualified him from fully enjoying that moment. Did Moses have the thought that God really keeps score, that God’s mercy is ‘measured out with coffee spoons’, as the poet might say? No: Moses let go of all resentment, or—I like to think—he was so happy for his people that he forgot his own reason for complaining.

Old people are challenged to let go of regrets and resentments. I can really say that people at Hillcrest live happily, or at least acceptingly, in the present. We can say prayers that heal past injuries. We can learn to give the past to God, with its unsightly scars and still-open wounds. Maybe prayers, which have validity in eternity, can effect change in things that happened then. We can pray back into the past for someone who offended us long ago. We can hope that God not only forgives, but uses our past sins and slights to others to bring good effects later on. As we forgive others and pray for them, we can learn to forgive ourselves as well.

Ecumenism and Cooperation

Ecumenism is a word that can be defined in many ways. Generally, it should suggest attitudes and actions that show respect and mutual support between different religions and their denominations. The spirit of ecumenism is a vital part of Christian_spirituality. At Hillcrest there are retired ministers from several Christian denominations, and there is respect and friendliness between these denominations. The spirituality of Hillcrest is incarnate in the many stories of friendship and mutual support among its residents. There is an intense community life here; we are interconnected. Although we do not have formal group discernment, our committees, our administrators, our casual get-togethers are not without the movement of the Holy Spirit, and not without clues dropped from heaven.

Is it luck or is it grace-filled providence that brings people together into groups that serve the needs of one another and expand into the wider community with greater service? Many members of the Hillcrest community belong to the Church of the Brethren. Indeed, Hillcrest was founded some seventy years ago as a place of refuge in retirement for Brethren ministers and missionaries. The campus still has its Brethren chaplain, a subtle Brethren spirit and ethos, and a lovely interfaith chapel.

The Church of the Brethren is one of the Peace Churches, along with the Quakers and the Mennonites. There is a lack of competitiveness and a strong spirit of cooperation among the Brethren. They educate men and women in ministry, but have a strong tradition that respects the priesthood of all believers. They sponsor and operate several universities across the United States, and their ethos is rural and countrified. The nearby University of La Verne, also Brethren in origin and inspiration, presently serves a population of largely Hispanic students. Its chaplaincy is also interreligious in focus, although its chaplains are ministers of the Church of the Brethren.

People at Hillcrest are reserved about their religious beliefs, but there is a pervasive atmosphere of favour towards church membership and participation. Roman Catholics have mass in the chapel once a month, but also attend the weekly Brethren vespers, and participate in a local parish community that is a vibrant model of twenty-first-century Catholicism. Anyone who has a religious message to share can volunteer to speak at vespers.

The Brethren are rooted in a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage that is known for its frugality, ingenuity, skill in crafts and simplicity of life. Our community runs a charity shop, which is located on the edge of the campus. Anyone who wants to contribute can bring donations, which are sorted and priced by a cadre of dedicated volunteers who take pride in the recycling of reusable items of all descriptions. The charity shop is also a place where members of the community can mix with neighbours from outside Hillcrest. There are community members who can fix anything from broken chairs and tables to mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Jackie and I have become members of the Hillcrest marketing committee. As residents advance to greater levels of care, the homes or units they no longer need must be resold and refilled in order to keep revenue coming in. The marketing committee befriend people visiting the campus, answer questions and encourage guests to contact people in our sales and marketing office. Membership of such a committee helps residents to get to know one another, and to extend welcome to prospective new community members. Jackie is also a member of the ethics committee, which offers advice to the administration on matters of ethical concern.

In the early years of our lives, perhaps after leaving college, we are concerned with marriage, raising children, maintaining a home, earning as much as we can and acquiring the things we need. Being busy all the time and fulfilling many obligations, we are perhaps not as reflective, contemplative, philosophical and prayerful as we might be. It seems that for most people any quiet moments or times of leisure have to be squeezed in among the hectic activities of surviving and flourishing in the workaday world.

It takes time, in retirement, for leisure to happen. We still need to appear busy, important and occupied with significant matters. We still need to stay engaged and to feel relevant, but perhaps we can learn to do so in a lower key and with less intensity. This latter condition is the advantage of living in a retirement community, creating our own best balance between private concerns and involvement with others in common projects. We find here both the luxury of pursuing personal interests and the wise poverty of shedding not just unnecessary possessions, but many pressing cares as well.

Robert E. Doud is emeritus professor of philosophy and religious studies at Pasadena City College in California. He has a particular interest in bringing together philosophy and poetry, using poetry as material offering insight into philosophy and using philosophy as a tool in the interpretation of poetry. His articles have appeared in Process Studies, Review for Religious, The Journal of Religion, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Philosophy Today, The Thomist, Religion and Literature, Horizons, Soundings and Existentia.

SMsFrom Bothered  and Bewildered: Enacting hope in troubled times  – Ann Morisy

On Sunday 19 October 2008 on Radio Four the morning service came from St Monica’s Trust, a resources centre in Westbury on Trym, and the preacher was the Revd Margaret Goodall, Chaplain for Methodist Homes for the Aged. The theme was ‘Choose Life’ and throughout the service, elderly frail people, including those with dementia, contributed, demonstrating the ways they had come to ‘choose life’. I phoned an old old friend later in the day. She is over ninety and ruminates over what is to become of her; dreading the prospect of moving into a residential home. She had lost her fear. By listening to the morning service she had seen the possibility of hope and life being sustained right up to her death. She was sad that St Monica’s Trust was too far away for her to consider. ‘Oh, but Methodist Homes are just like that, and are all over Britain,’ I replied. ‘Can you get me some details?’ shy requested. She had seen the possibility of a hopeful future. One of the most dreaded features of growing old is the prospect of needing residential care and the possibility of dementia. It is feared more than death itself. In this context, the possibility of a hope-filled future was made manifest through the capacity of Methodist Homes to enact hope sufficiently to reassure people of the possibility of deliverance from anxiety, and a hopeful life into the future.

Return to the home page

Advertisements

Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!

Nat 3The pupils of St Bernadette’s and the madcap Mr Poppy are back! When their new teacher Mr Shepherd  loses his memory as well as Archie the Donkey, it’s up to them to save the day and reunite him with his fiancée Sophie in New York. Prepare for a race against time, fantastic flashmobs and plenty of Christmas fun on their greatest adventure yet.

Mr. Poppy is the linchpin of all three Nativity films: a dim-witted classroom assistant played by the comedian Marc Wootton, and at this stage, nothing less than the Colonel Kurtz of children’s entertainment. He’s a Fisher King in cotton-rich raiment; a lord of chaos, a gibbering shape in the trees. A mob of enablers aged between four and 12 surround him. Pain and flatulence sustain him. In the children’s birthday party of your darkest nightmares, Mr. Poppy would be hiding in the cake.

Shepherd, the latest teacher to be drafted in to St. Bernadette’s primary school, on a mission to bring the children and Mr. Poppy to heel in time for a pre-Christmas Ofsted inspection. But a kick in the head from Mr. Poppy’s pet donkey causes Mr. Shepherd to lose his memory, which leads to a series of strange and troubling scenes in which he roams the Midlands dressed as an elf, pursued by Mr. Poppy and his retinue.

The film was mostly panned by critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 10% rating based on 20 reviews (18 negative reviews and 2 positive reviews) with an average score of 3/10.

 Mr. Poppy: Santastic!

Return to the home page

Introducing Wittgenstein by John Heaton

IWI know him most of all because of his notion of ‘language games’ so was disappointed to we nothing here about this.

The story of his life and loves, though, was interesting.

(The Tractatus) “Its purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who read and understood it.”

“The world is all that is the case.”

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

“…the last sentence assumes that only factual propositions are meaningful, so the world consists only in facts…there is a distinction between what can be -said- and what can only be -shown- is being developed organically”

Return to the home page

The State of the Nation: A report on Religious Education provision within secondary schools in England. – NATRE

NATREA QUARTER of all state secondary schools are struggling to meet their legal obligation to teach religious studies, data obtained by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) has shown.

Its analysis of the previously unpublished School Workforce Census, obtained from the Government by a Freedom of Information request, found that, out of the 2793 schools that took part in the census, 28 per cent (787 schools) said that they gave no time to religious education (RE) in Year 11, the GCSE year.

This equates with 800,000 pupils, NATRE estimates in this report, And, of the schools claiming to offer non-examined RE to Year 11 pupils, 83 per cent admitted that their students received zero minutes of teaching per week, meaning that, in practice, it was not on the curriculum — what the report calls a “tick-box exercise”.

“Non-examined RE is often not sufficient to meet the aims of the subject, and leads to schools simply not teaching it, which fails pupils,” the report says.

The provision of RE varied across the UK depending on the type of school or academy in question: those with religious character, such as church schools; those with specific funding agreements for RE; and those following a locally agreed RE syllabus.

Schools with a religious character typically provide a higher level of provision of RE, the report says: 96 per cent offer the subject at Key Stage 4 (GCSE level), and 90 per cent dedicate at least 40 minutes of teaching a week to the subject.

This was compared to academies, 73 per cent of which offered RE at GCSE, and only 27 per cent of these offered more than 40 minutes of teaching a week on the subject. Schools following a locally agreed syllabus for RE were somewhere in between: 45 per cent dedicate 40 minutes or more of their timetables to RE.

“As these schools convert to academy status and are no longer required to follow their locally agreed syllabus, there is a real concern that their level of RE provision may drop,” the report warns.

Pupils at religious schools are also “significantly more likely” to be taught RE by a teacher with a relevant post A-Level qualification than students in an academy.

Full-course Religious Studies GCSE students should receive more than two hours of tuition on the subject per week, and short-course pupils at least one hour, it says. But almost half of schools (48 per cent) are teaching RE full-course on short-course hours.

“It is neither educationally, morally, or legally justifiable for schools to provide minimal time on the school timetable for RE, or to expect teachers with insufficient training or expertise to deliver the subject,” the report says.

“Neither is it acceptable for any young person to leave school without the knowledge and skills delivered through RE which will allow them to understand the beliefs and values of our diverse British society, without which they will be ill equipped to take their place in the modern world.”

At the same time, the number of schools removing GCSE RS from their curriculum has risen steadily between 2014 and 2016 (three per cent overall), while 14 per cent of academies did not enter a single pupil for any GCSE in RS.

NATRE is calling on the Department for Education to hold schools to account for the poor figures; routinely publish data on RE provision; publicly state the importance of religious literacy; and improve teaching training on the subject.

It also urges head teachers and governors to review their provision, and recommends that Ofsted should monitor and investigate more closely the quality of teaching. Parents and guardians should also be encouraged to question and request more information on the RE provision at their school.

What would REALLY help us on SACREs is: Publish data about RE provision routinely in an accessible format (without the need to issue Freedom of Information requests) to allow local Standing Advisory Councils for RE (SACREs) and other bodies to more easily fulfil their duty to monitor provision for RE in their local area. This data should include school workforce data and GCSE entries.

Other quotations:

Schools do not have to offer an examined course in RE to meet their legal obligations. Depending on the Agreed Syllabus followed it is sometimes possible to offer a non-examined course in RE, taught at an appropriate level and to a high standard. Nonetheless, these non-examined courses should still meet the recommended curriculum time (5%). The school survey found, however, that non-examined RE is often insufficient and in many cases those schools claiming to offer a non-examined RE course also reveal that they spend no time teaching it.

the Secretary of State, through the Department for Education, has demonstrated a willingness to intervene when necessary in resolving complaints about a school failing to make appropriate provision for RE.

You can download it from here

Return to the home page

 

 

 

THE DEVIL’S PASSION – Jutstin Butcher

TDPA man in a black suit stands at a podium. Behind him hangs a flag. The emblem is disturbing and unfamiliar. However the short speech he makes about security and terrorism to a gathering of the world’s media is all too familiar.

33 AD. Jesus enters Jerusalem to fulfil his destiny. Satan ascends from Hell to stop him. A battle begins – for the soul of humanity. Framed satirically against a “War on Terror” backdrop of heightened security, fear and surveillance, with Satan as self-styled Intelligence Chief fighting “extremism” in the Middle East in defence of our “freedoms”, the last days of Christ are presented as a counter-terrorism operation by diabolical security forces.

Within the next hour, our operatives will isolate, engage and capture or kill the notorious leader of the most extreme, dangerous and contagious ideology to emerge in the modern era . . . I refer, of course, to the radical preacher and populist demagogue Y’shua Bar-Yessuf – the man known, by way of shorthand to our operatives, as “Jesus”.

Butcher retells the Easter story from the perspective of the devil, a hazily sinister amalgamation of American cultural and military imperialism, political absolutism and moral relativism, watching through narrowing eyes the ‘radicalisation’ of the son of a carpenter and his evolution into a divine act of terrorism destined to raze the gates of Hell and death.

What at first appears too sermon-neat is cunningly swerved by a text that’s deeply engaged with a radical conception of spiritual reconciliation, influenced strongly by the work of Walter Wink. There are no easy morals or cheap equivalences. Condemnation and commerce, hard rules and hard thinking, structures and power, those are the true devils represented by Butcher’s almost Blakean conception of evil.

Butcher’s one man play opens at something like a security briefing for the press. His narrator, who is only looking out for our best interests as he tries to apprehend the dangerous extremist, is Satan. And while a passion play from the Devil’s perspective may naturally evoke a gleefully heretical flavour, Butcher’s beautifully-written piece is as reverent as such a post-Screwtape exercise can be while still entertaining.

Butcher does take more liberties with Scripture, perhaps, than an old-school evangelical or nervous traditionalist might like, but his intention is not to disrupt the canon or undermine the audience’s view of biblical authority. When Butcher’s Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man specifically to Zaccheus the tax collector, when he says “be still” not to the wind and waves but a tempest in a possessed man’s mind, it draws attention to the wonderful echoes, themes and symmetries in Scripture, rather than making you doubt it. When Jesus in the wilderness hears Ezekiel’s rushing wind and Satan’s mocking ‘still small voice’, it is pleased chuckles or knowing nods, rather than worried frowns and disapproving tuts that will be the likely responses of Bible-loving Christians.

TDP 2Certainly, he suggests the man whose tormenting spirits are driven into pigs might be schizophrenic and that the biggest miracle in feeding the multitude was convincing people to share – but these are hardly faith-rocking thoughts for a contemporary British Christian. And when Satan agonises over his own blindness to Jesus’ ‘suicidal’ plan to save mankind at the Last Supper, it is the Angel of Death of Exodus that is most invoked. The traditional Passover image playing as a background to Butcher’s ingenious take on Satan’s last-ditch effort to avoid a hell-shaking disaster (sending Pilate’s wife a warning dream, making Pilate himself and Herod uncharacteristically squeamish and merciful), makes that a particularly rich climax to a play that doesn’t lack for richness.

Like a medieval mystery play, it concentrates on a battle between Christ and the Devil, but unlike the idea of the ‘harrowing of hell’ in the earlier conception, Butcher’s play is set in the world – an unspecified fusion between first-century Jerusalem and the political concerns of our day.

Butcher says he wants to convey the idea that “Hell is wherever God is not, and wherever Satan’s power, bondage, and imprisonment, victimhood disease, oppression violence… wherever these things hold sway.

“It’s not a subterranean cavern, which is how the medieval mind understood it.”

We see Christ abolishing nine ‘gates’, taking cue from Dante’s nine circles of hell. In Butcher’s imagining, the gates – which include ‘shame’, ‘mammon’, ‘fear’ and of course ‘death’ – are the embodiment of the barriers that we construct in our lives and which keep God out; the “defences which we erect against the invasion of love, against God’s presence fully realised in the world”.

These are: “Our security, our addictions, our prosperity, our desire to control our lives and make them safe, our fear of ‘the other’… “Wherever love breaks in, and breaks down these barriers, is a new conquest of the kingdom of God.”

Working to defeat these walls in our lives, Butcher presents Jesus as someone constantly confounding expectations and breaking taboos. The play draws out key scenes from Jesus’ life in which Christ subverts expectations – these include his conception, his temptation in the wilderness, welcoming the woman who poured perfume on his feet, dining with Zacchaeus, speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, and dying on the cross.

“Every time people thought they had got a handle on Jesus, he would go and confound them,” Butcher says.

“As the kingdom is becoming a reality in the land that Jesus walked in, people start to flock to him and the good news is disseminated. [There is] the sense that this is an invasion into the realm controlled by the powers of darkness.”

Perhaps the most poignant moment is when Butcher has Satan tempt Jesus on the cross to give it up and pack it in by showing him how generations of Christians will sanitise his sacrifice, allowing gold and silversmiths to smooth his suffering into decorative mannequins for church walls and necklaces.

Return to the home page

Education for tomorrow

SchAndreas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD, and the brains behind the PISA international education league tables, puts this existential challenge to educationalists: “The demands on learners, and thus on education systems, are evolving quickly. In the past, education was primarily about teaching people something; now, it’s about making sure that students develop a reliable compass and the navigation skills to find their own way through an increasingly uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world. A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would equip their students with the skills needed for the rest of their lives. Today, teachers need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented and to solve social problems that haven’t arisen before.”

 

We are entering the age of the fourth industrial revolution. Robotics and automation are going to transform the way we work. The prospect of driverless vehicles confronts us. We cannot simply carry on carrying on. We have a duty, as educators and as a society, to think deeply about what it is that children and young people need to know and be able to do, in a society that will change radically; for a future in which there will be few, if any, jobs for life.

And this thinking must involve a real consideration of skills. Because if we think education is about filling pupils up to the brim with knowledge, then we will let them down. We don’t know exactly what knowledge the students we are educating will need in their future. We do know they will need to develop the skills and abilities to access knowledge in order to be lifelong learners.

So, any real thinking about the curriculum has to go beyond established subject boundaries. We have to consider what skills our students need to navigate their adult world. I am happy to provide a starter for 10 in the skills list. The core skills our education system needs to develop in students include:

Communication skills – and most importantly, verbal communication skills, which are under-developed as students spend so much of their time in school writing.

Interpersonal skills – including the ability to work cooperatively with others, in teams, to take responsibility, to assume a leading role, to listen to others and to value their contribution.

Excellent IT skills – including the ability to question ‘facts’ on the internet and to challenge sources.

The ability to see connections between subjects and to manipulate knowledge in new contexts.

The ability to create, to make and to produce – applying theoretical concepts to practical outcomes.

These skills and abilities will not be developed unless they are thought about, planned for and assessed. They can be taught through subjects, but they will not be developed simply as a by-product.

 

When we can access so much content on Google, where routine skills are being digitised or outsourced, and where jobs are changing rapidly, the focus is on enabling people to become lifelong learners, to manage complex ways of thinking and working.

In short, the modern world no longer rewards us just for what we know, but for what we can do with what we know.

Many countries are reflecting this by expanding school curriculums with new school subjects. The most recent trend, reinforced in the financial crisis, was to teach students financial skills.

But results from Pisa show no relationship between the extent of financial education and financial literacy. In fact, some of those education systems where students performed best in the Pisa assessment of financial literacy teach no financial literacy but invest their efforts squarely on developing deep mathematics skills.

More generally, in top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous, with a few things taught well and in great depth.

“Perhaps the most challenging dilemma for educators in the 21st century is that routine, rule-based knowledge, which is easiest to teach and to test, is also easiest to digitise, automate and outsource.”

Return to the home page

Beach Rats.

B RAn raw and emotive film with a dark underbelly, it follows Frankie, an angst-ridden teenager caught between two worlds: playing ball and chasing girls with his lay-about friends in gritty, outer Brooklyn, and closeted desires, given air through flirting with men online and meeting them by night on cruising beaches.

A fresh reinterpretation of the coming-of-age drama, writer and director Eliza Hittman explained that her focus was “a young guy coming to consciousness about who he was. And that always involves sort of pain and a realisation. It’s not a beautiful transformative process as people like to hope and imagine that growing up is.”

For her, depicting a young man’s struggle with his sexuality was not a goal in itself, but just a story to be told: “I think there’s room on the spectrum for a lot of different perspectives on sexuality. It’s just one representation of one experience in one part of the world.”

“There are destructive consequences to living in a world where you have to hide who you are. It’s not an overtly message-driven after-school special obviously – but that is the feeling the film gives you.”

 

The main actor: “Frankie’s assimilated this idea of masculinity from all his friends, and strikes up a heterosexual relationship because that’s the ‘right thing to do’ in society.” “There has to be a predicament they have to overcome because it allows you to dive into something that is unresolved, something very interesting. “With Beach Rats, it was apparent how much pressure is involved in the character of Frankie and how much toxicity builds inside himself as a result of repressing his inner identity and sexuality.

“That was something intriguing and tragic to try to portray.”

Harris, who’ll soon be appearing in Danny Boyle’s new TV series Trust opposite Brendan Fraser and Hilark Swank adds that there needs to be “more education about same-sex issues in schools.”

 

He continues: “I don’t have a generalised view of a gay man or a gay woman. When I was 16 one of my best friends came out to me and I said, ‘OK, are you happy?’ and he said he was.

 

“I don’t really know what I like.”

 

Simone: Two girls can make out and it’s hot, but when two guys make out, it’s gay.

 

Michael: In gay men, the pointer finger is almost always longer than the ring finger. In straight men, the ring finger is almost always longer than the pointer finger.

Return to the home page