Black Lives Matter – Healing the Nations

We thank Reverend Larry Wright for providing us with his material from the BLM session on 30th July. It was very interesting listening to him as a speaker, so we hope this post is useful if you would like to recall the session or couldn’t attend the meeting at all.

I speak as a white privileged male, who has been a priest for nearly 30 years in a part of the global Anglican Church that has just set up a commission to investigate endemic racism within its structures and institutions and I’m a former Police Officer.

As a Christian priest I subscribe to a mandate of inclusive love while in practice I wrestle with my own prejudices daily. Within the churches and communities we serve I sense the fears and anxieties of many who feel overwhelmed and besieged by current trends in society which challenge their assumptions and values.  Some respond with bewilderment others with anger, others with an uncomfortable aversion or awkward attempts at engagement.   

As a priest in one of the most ethnically diverse and dynamic cities in Britain, the fruits and blessings of multi-culturalism are all around me. Birmingham has a good record of racial harmony but we must not be complacent. The immediacy of social media brings international incidents directly to our attention and the killing of George Floyd resonated globally exposing the unhealed, unresolved character of institutionalised and inculturated racism.

The expressions of grief and outpourings of protest witnessed in America, the UK and elsewhere have accelerated the need for a comprehensive re-assessment of our attitudes, our values and our use of history. From my perspective, there are two distinct though interconnected aspects to the BLM upsurge of protests:

  • Raising consciousness of the depth of racism still prevalent in society
  • And the pressing need to reconsider accepted views of history

As a person of faith, I search the sacred texts of my religion for guidance and inspiration. In them I find challenge and hope for they are both an historical witness to the struggles of faithful people while containing truth and wisdom for future generations.

A prophet revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims is known to me as Ezekiel.  In the prophetic book of writings bearing his name a key chapter is found in what we know as chapter18 in our Christian Bible. In this chapter the prophet draws a profound distinction between the wrongdoings of parents and children (one generation and another) and who bears the consequences of those wrongdoings. Previously, it was widely believed children were punished for the sins of their parents:  God’s anger would punish the many for the sins of the few. Ezekiel reforms this sense of collective punishment so the sins of a previous generation are not to be regarded as the responsibility of the next. The current generation must bear the consequences of its wrongdoings and sin, says the prophet.

In the current campaigns for retrospective justice and recompense for the sins of previous generations who exploited, abused and enslaved millions, many of my generation and background acknowledge the legitimacy of these campaigns while sensing we are being perceived as complicit. The discomfort this generates becomes an obstacle to addressing current issues of racism, exploitation, abuse and slavery.

Some of my generation and background ask ourselves: Can we be sure that the pulling down of statues, violent and non-violent protests, the reform of historical narratives, national acts of remorse and where possible compensation awarded, help to address and overcome racism and exploitation in this generation?  Or, put another way, are these campaigns necessary preliminaries before a new enlightenment era of racial justice can dawn? While they may be powerful acts of protest and demolition, they appear nihilistic and we are fearful they will harden attitudes among those whom we are seeking to transform attitudes.

Retrospective justice is important and necessary but the victims of racism and exploitation now must take the highest priority, let not the campaigns for the former detract from the urgency of the latter.

Reverend Larry Wright

 

Opening Address to our conference

This text was sent in by Reverend Larry Wright who opened our “Healing The Nations” conference on 30th July. The conference is still ongoing and if you wish to join us please use this link.

As a person of faith, ‘healing’ and ‘nations’ are words resonant with meaning, promise and longing, while also evoking concepts to be approached with caution, as their definitions are many and their usage often controversial.

But as a general statement of intent, who would not wish nations and their peoples to be healed?

The question presumes two things. We have an understanding of the malady or illness from which people are suffering and we understand what a nation is. For how can we heal what we cannot describe and whom do we heal if we do not know the patient? To put it in medical terms.

Let’s begin with nation, or nationhood. Any reading of history will soon lead us to understand nations are a relatively recent concept.  Ancient history refers to peoples, ethnic groupings, religious cults and empires. Only in recent centuries has the concept of nation states become a feature of political history and geography.

In the ancient texts cherished by my faith, it is empires that dominate the Near and Middle East of our founding stories. For many post-colonial countries their borders and boundaries were fixed by former colonial powers. We see in the changing geography of the last 100 years, nations emerge, separate or succumb to war and defeat. Nations incorporated – willingly or unwillingly- by new imperial conquests and later liberated to pursue their own national self-determination.

Are we seeking healing of nations or between nations? Surly the wise and the good seek to do both. We have nations divided among themselves and at enmity with each other in a globalised and regionalised world. And let us not exclude the possibility of healing between our species and the natural world we inhabit, for without the earth, our one constant source of life giving resources, peoples and nations will inevitably perish.

So what healing is needed?  Throughout this conference the sufferings and realities of different countries and regions will be examined and analysed. Their historical, ideological, political and economic complexities scrutinised.  Maybe in the course of this conference, new thinking may emerge and new possibilities proposed.  However our conversations unfold, may we be watchful we do not rely on addressing only the more obvious expressions of suffering and conflict in our world. Partial claims for political, economic or ideological remedies to humankind’s needs, address the material aspects of our human nature, but we are flesh and spirit, body and soul; however we choose to define this: A remedy which only concentrates upon the body is deficient, a cure which only addresses the soul incomplete. We must strive for integrated and holistic remedies which are both transformative and healing.

But we must begin with ourselves. The ancient Jewish proverb puts it plainly; “Physician heal thyself!”  In the recognition of our own need for healing and transformation we begin a journey of self-discovery taking us outward to the world in the full knowledge we are less than we could be while celebrating we are more than we were.

It is a journey from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from self-centred egotism to world embracing compassion, from indifference or resignation to action; for people of faith it is the complete reorientation of our lives towards God.

In a highly medicalised world, we are encouraged to put our faith in medical science to cure human sickness, but there is no pill or procedure for the most serious afflictions of our world:  poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, unemployment, environmental degradation, conflict, racism and economic inequality and exploitation. These are the recurring and endemic causes of so much suffering.

To play any meaningful role in the notion of ‘healing the nations’, we must nurture certain values as global concepts: conciliation, justice for all, meaningful and respectful engagement, conflict avoidance, global economic reform and cooperation. Underlying these aspirations must be the recognition of our need for spiritual, moral and religious renewal and reform. Then we will bring to the world’s problems the fullness of our physical and intellectual energies and the transformative power of the spiritual life.

Reverend Larry Wright

 

How best to Join a Meeting Online

The following notes were prepared for the Next Century Foundation by our senior member Mr Matthew Tomkinson. They may be helpful as a guide for the NCF’s Healing the Nations Conference attendees.

With the Covid 19 pandemic there has been a massive increase in online conferences, meeting and general chats.  This is made easy with current software and hardware.  Programmes such as Teams, Zoom, Skype etc. make the process of seeing and talking to a remote person or group quick and effective.  Computers, either laptops or desktops with a web cam or even a mobile phone and built in microphones make the transmission and reception of pictures and audio quick and easy.The downside to all this being so easy is that most people don’t think about how they look and sound to others.  There are a few simple tweaks that can be made.

Think of a newsreader in a studio.  With the newsreader is at least one camera, lights and a background.  Do they go to all that trouble just for fun?  No, of course not.  The reason they do it is to increase your engagement in the programme and hence the news.  No one expects you to go to this expense and care but by paying attention to what they do, you can do something very similar and engage your audience who is watching you talk and it doesn’t matter if this is as part of a meeting, a conference as a speaker or a webinar.  The principles are the same as you are wanting to keep the same effect of engagement.

Since you probably don’t have access to a television studio and all of its crew and equipment you need to provide this yourself to the best of your abilities.

How do you Sound to others?

Good sound that is clear and easy for others to hear and hence engage with what you are saying is vital.  Our concentration tends to be on pictures but I understand that the brain focusses more on the audio.  In any case I will get to the visual side later.

Phones, tablets and computers have very basic microphones that pick up sound from all around them.  Most of us don’t have quality microphones but if you do then please use it  The next best to use is earphones with a microphone or headset.  These have two advantages.  Firstly they place the microphone close to the mouth and hence the majority of the sound they are picking up is from you.  Secondly they send the audio you hear directly to your ears and hence avoid any issues of howlround or feedback.  You can turn up the audio level comfortable to you.

If you have earphones, headphones or a separate microphone then please use it.

Once you have decided what you want to use and have it plugged in please check the audio ‘level’.  This is how much the amplification of the microphone is set up to give a good audio level to listeners.  There can be up to three ways to achieve this which sounds a bit complicated but generally any one of them will work.

  • If you have a specialist microphone then this might well have its own software to set it up.  If you have gone to the trouble of buying your own mic then you will know how to set this up.
  • The second ways is on the computer operating system itself.  Mostly this is set up on the meeting software but if you have your own microphone it may well come with its own set up.
    • I use a Mac and I would go to System Preferences – Sound Icon – Input Tab and then adjust the Input level so that the grey markers peaked at about 80% (12th grey bar).  You can also select the input source, microphone, that you wish to use if you have more than one setup.
    • I’m not familiar with Windows operating system these days but I believe to adjust the microphone level you would select the Speaker Icon bottom right of your screen – Open Sound Settings – Select Input – Select Levels Tab – Microphone Level.  If this doesn’t make your microphone loud enough then you can also add some Microphone Boost but please don’t unless really necessary as this can increase the noise level as well but depends on what sort of microphone you are using.
  • Thirdly the conference or meeting software often has it’s own way to check for sound levels.  It’s always a good idea to check the audio levels, in and out, for any conference before you start especially if you share equipment with someone else.
    • Zoom – Full and detailed instructions are here – https://bit.ly/2Aq8rko
    • Teams – Instructions, not quite so detailed, are here – https://bit.ly/2YZYgN4
    • Skype – Click on More (three dots to the right of your name – Settings – Audio & Video then make sure you can see yourself in the camera image and do an audio test.

Please be very aware of noises around you disturbing the meeting or conference.  If you are not speaking it is best to mute your microphone.  Different programmes have differing ways of doing this but almost always on the main screen.  If your mic is live then please do not type on the keyboard, especially with a laptop as this will be heard very clearly by everyone.

How do you Look to others?

Think back to that newsreader we talked about at the beginning.  What is the angle of their face to the camera?  How is the lighting on their face?  What does the background look like?  We will now answer those questions.

  • Camera Angle – Does the newsreader look down or up at the camera?  No.  The camera is level with their face so you need to do this when you position your camera whether it’s a laptop, webcam, phone or video camera.  You will probably be sitting at a desk for your meeting or conference.  If so the normal camera position will be too low.  Tilting the screen back just gives you an under the nose or chin shot.  Never attractive.  So raise the laptop by putting it on a pile of books, have the screen at right angles to the desk and the camera in line with your eyes when you look straight ahead.
  • Camera position.  How should you sit in the frame?  Generally in the middle.  The conference arranger might want you to sit to one side if they are going to arrange a Powerpoint or similar, presentation so that it appears on your shoulder but this is probably rare.  So sit in the middle of the picture.
  • Lighting – The point of lighting is to make you look good so why wouldn’t you pay attention to it?  First of all lighting needs to be of a decent amount for the camera you are using.  Does your picture look grainy and dark?  If so you need more lighting.  This should be evenly across your face so two light sources, one either side of your face.  These can be table lamps or ‘anglepoise’ lights.  Does your face now look evenly lit and bright?  If so then you have achieved the right effect.  If it’s too bright then move one of the lights away.  Do you have any harsh shadows?  Then move the lights around.
  • Background – It has been said that there are two parts to a picture.  The foreground and the background.  Clearly you will be the foreground and so far we have managed to make you sound and look good.  But what is behind you?  If it’s a window or very bright background then that will affect how the camera sees the overall picture and will make you look too dark.  Ideally the background will be a bit darker than your face but I am getting quite picky with that!  It’s best not to have too fussy a background with bookshelves or a fancy painting as people might be distracted by that.  Definitely don’t have a moving background as that will mess with the image compression and probably deteriorate the image.
  • Some cameras (laptops, phones etc.) have a auto focus facility.  Make sure that the camera focusses on your face.  In a recent broadcast conference I saw one speaker give his whole presentation with him out of focus but his elegant bookcase perfectly in focus.  You would think they would know better!

There are two other areas to discuss, Browsers and Broadband.

Browsers

This is what you access the internet via and it includes Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Tor.  These can limit access to your camera and microphone.  I did have a situation with Chrome where it couldn’t see my camera or hear my microphone.  I then had to change the browser settings.  On Chrome this is Click on More (three vertical dots to the right of the menu bar – Settings – Scroll down to Privacy and Security then select Site Settings – then Permissions for Camera and Audio.  Then change settings as required.  Chrome does this to protect you from malicious websites who might want remote access to your camera or microphone without your knowledge.

I’m not aware of the other browsers having such settings but it is possible.

Broadband

Broadband connection is often referred to as ADSL.  The important part about this is the A for Asynchronous.  This means that your download speed is different to your upload speed.  You might have a download speed of 30 Mbps and an upload speed of 5Mbps stated in your contract.  Many times you won’t get that speed as your internet connection is shared amongst other houses or properties.  So if you measure your speed, using something like OOKLA (www.ookla.com) you won’t see these speeds.  Often this doesn’t matter as the largest files you download are probably films and programmes.  However, in video conferencing you will want to share your pictures with others which means that the upload speed, because you are uploading your video to the internet, does matter.

So what can you do about this to improve it?  Generally you can’t change the time of the conference, so it’s when your neighbours aren’t online, and you can’t change your supplier or get faster at short notice.  Your options are limited but I would suggest that you connect your computer or device to the router via a cable and not use wireless if you can help it.  Wireless, unless you have a very good system, will generally slow you down.  If you want to check this do three tests with a wireless connection using OOKLA or similar, then plug in a cable and do three more tests.  See if there is any difference.

Summary

Audio –

  • Use an external microphone if possible for increased clarity.
  • Set up the microphone levels correctly.
  • Mute your microphone when not speaking.

Video –

  • Position your camera so that you are not looking up or down at it.
  • Light your face evenly and with enough so as to give a good picture.
  • Pay attention to your background and never in front of a window.
  • Make sure the camera focuses on your face and nowhere else.

Browser –

  • Make sure your browser is not inhibiting your mic or camera

Broadband –

  • Connect via a cable to your router whenever possible.