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16 June 2009

by Jonathan Boardman

iPod convert

I AM NOT really a technophobe so much as technically challenged. Gadgets attract me, even if I cannot use them. But please don’t misunder­stand me: I am not claiming to be entirely impractical.

Assembling, for example, an Ikea flat-pack is a procedure I have made something of a speciality, acting on oc­casion as a fourth emergency ser­vice, rescuing friends from near-suicidal frustration with the turn of a single allen key.

No, whether it is the sheer amount of information contained within the multilingual 70-page instruction man­uals that I fail to grasp, or my apparent inability to access the magic of any installation wizard, computer­ised things tend to dislike me.

Judging from the static shocks I get as I walk into department stores and brush against metal handles and rails, perhaps it is the result of in­nate electricity, or, worse still, my per­sonal magnetism. But I have at last found an electronic friend — the iPod.

After an initial installation — by someone else — of iPlayer and links to iStore, simply plugging in this little bit of kit and hoping for the best has enabled me to listen to podcasts of all my favourite BBC radio shows while jogging (rarely); travelling by train (sometimes); or car (too much). To me, the iPod is a world of mystery, but one to which, miraculously, I have gained access.

It is a bit like prayer. After a time away from regular, concentrated BBC listening, I have to say that I am im­pressed. Rumours of dumbing down and a policy of hostility to religion are much exaggerated, as far as I can judge. In Our Time and Start the Week, on Radio 4, collect contributors of real academic and authorial dis­tinction, including theologians, who are then gently led to communicate successfully with the general listener by expert presenters. And the Arts and Ideas podcast, gleaned from Radio 3’s Nightwaves, offers incisive inter­views with figures from the worlds of science and the humanities.

Most recently, I heard Terry Eagleton, the famed Marxist literary critic, talking about his intellectual op­position to the “new” atheists, Dawkins and Hitchens, for whom he has coined the wonderfully naughty collective “Ditchkins”.

Mr Eagleton grew up as a Roman Catholic in post-war Salford, and, although he has much to criticise the Church for, summed up again in a single word — but not this time of his own devising — “Vatican” (which he clearly applies to a broader target than just the headquarters of the RC Church), he professes a profound re­spect for the Christian faith.

“It’s not that institutional Chris­tianity cannot, or oughtn’t to be, critiqued [pace the Ditchkins project], it’s just that it’s done best by a consideration of the gospel.”

Long may such clear exposition of faith and truth find a place in the BBC’s schedules.

See books

Plans for the future

See books

Plans for the future

I HAVE recently attended the Europe diocesan synod. Readers may recall that I was absent last year because of an emergency operation. Well, this time I made it to Kardinal Schulte Haus, the conference centre just out­side Cologne, without mishap.

And a very gratifying experience it was, too: I saw old friends and col­leagues, lay and ordained, from the vast diocese in which I work; I heard inspiring input from Bishops Graham Cray, James Jones, and Robert Atwell; and I participated in a process that seeks to plan constructively for the dio­cese’s pastoral and mission strategy (and personality) for the coming decade or so.

Too often, the diocese in Europe is regarded by the rest of the Church of England as some kind of joke, or as an irrelevance. Those of us who know it as a daily means of living out our callings and witnessing to our faith can at­testits seriousness and “mission shape”. Diocese-lite as it sometimes inevitably appears, it can yet be a true home for a wide variety of Christians living outside of their normal con­texts.

A sense of hope and optimism is abroad in Anglican Europe: as our diocesan bishop commented in his words of prorogation, this meeting is a part of the synodical system which is much looked forward to by its members. And that says a great deal.

Digital lifesafer

LAST YEAR, I was helped to turn back at the 11th hour from getting on the plane to Cologne by my friend and nearest neighbour, the Revd Lawrence MacLean, Chaplain in Tuscany. This year, he saved my editorial life by giving me access at the airport to a laptop and the web, while we waited to fly back to Italy.

“What are you like, Farv?” asked Lawrence from Florence, as I faffed around vaguely, looking for an inter­net “hotspot”. Clearly now confirmed as the Catweazle of the computer, I let him tap the keys to guide us back on to the information highway. The rest is techno history.

The Revd Jonathan Boardman is Chaplain of All Saints’, Rome.

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